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Annual General Meeting 2023: Conversation Amid Crisis: Sustaining Dialogue in Divided Times

The war between Israel and Hamas that began on October 7, 2023, with a murderous attack on civilians in Israel has resulted in a devastating loss of civilian life in Gaza and has challenged arts, human rights, academic and civil society institutions. Organizations and communities are divided. Events have been canceled, awards reconsidered and alliances broken. Some writers and artists have grown fearful of expressing their personal views whereas others have sounded off loudly either individually or in concert.

We convened on Monday, December 11th from 7:00-9:00 PM Eastern Time for the 2023 PEN America Annual General Meeting, Conversation Amid Crisis: Sustaining Dialogue in Divided Times, where we interrogated the challenge of keeping civil discourse alive amid deep schisms. This panel discussion examined not the conflict in the Middle East per se, but rather its ripple effects on the cultural, academic, and literary ecosystem back home. Through this conversation, we endeavored to cultivate a space where writers and thinkers can navigate fraught topics by demonstrating a willingness to listen, engage, learn, and even narrow differences.

We heard from a panel of experts, including award-winning fiction and nonfiction writer Zaina Arafat; journalist and translator Yair Rosenberg; journalist, editor, and cultural critic Judith Shulevitz; writer and former Director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group Nathan Thrall; and author, lawyer, and equity advocate Kenji Yoshino. The audience was able to join the discussion and continue the conversation in a post-event reception. The event was live-streamed for remote audiences.


This event took place as part of PEN America’s statutory Annual General Meeting (AGM) of members. Go to pen.org/join to become a member today! Please direct any questions regarding membership to [email protected].

Current Members can view the highlights of past AGM’s on the Member Benefits page.


Zaina Arafat headshotZaina Arafat is an LGBTQ Arab-American fiction and nonfiction writer. She is the author of the novel, You Exist Too Much, which won a 2021 Lambda Literary Award and was named Roxane Gay’s favorite book of 2020. Her stories and essays have appeared in publications including The New York Times, Granta, The Believer, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, BuzzFeed, VICE, Guernica, Literary Hub and NPR. In recognition of her work, she was awarded the Arab Women/Migrants from the Middle East fellowship at Jack Jones Literary Arts and named a Champion of Pride by The Advocate. She holds an MFA from Iowa and an MA from Columbia University. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently at work on a collection of essays.

Zaina teaches writing at Barnard College, The School of the New York Times and LIU Post. She has also taught at the University of Iowa, the International Writing Program the Center for Fiction and Sackett Street Writers’, as well as abroad in Jordan, Egypt and Eritrea, where she taught creative writing as part of a U.S. State Department/International Writing Program delegation. She has also led workshops for dreamers and DACA recipients through the Writer’s Guild Initiative. As an editor, she curated a portfolio of prose and poetry in response to the travel ban, as well as a Q & A series with Muslim writers for The Margins. She currently edits digital content for WNET’s arts-focused television station, ALL ARTS.

Yair Rosenberg is a staff writer at The Atlantic where he covers the intersection of politics, culture, and religion, and writes the Deep Shtetl newsletter. Previously a senior writer at Tablet Magazine, he has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian, and his work has received awards from the Religion Newswriters Association and the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies. He has covered everything from national elections in America and Israel to observant Jews in baseball, to the translation of Harry Potter into Yiddish, to Muslims and Jews in comic books, and in his spare time, he composes and sings original Jewish music and creates bots that troll anti-Semites on Twitter.

Judith Shulevitz is an American journalist, editor and culture critic. She has been a columnist for Slate, The New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.

Shulevitz got her start editing as co-editor of Lingua Franca with Margaret Talbot. The magazine won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence under their editorship in 1993. Shulevitz later worked as deputy editor and columnist at New York Magazine. She was one of the founding editors of Slate, the culture editor, and a daily columnist for the magazine. Shulevitz wrote the “Close Reader” column for The New York Times Book Review from 2001 through 2003 and wrote and edited for The New Republic from 2011 through 2014. Her essays have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Forward, and many other publications. She is currently a contributing writer for The Atlantic.

Shulevitz published her first book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time (Random House) in 2010. The New Yorker called it “a swift, penetrating book intent on shattering the habits of mindless workaholism,”and The Atlantic called it “gorgeously written.” Rebecca Goldstein, in The New York Times, wrote, “True to the tradition she loves, [Shulevitz] displays a reassuring double-mindedness toward almost everything except erudition.”

Nathan Thrall is the author of A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy (Metropolitan, October 3, 2023) and The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (Metropolitan, 2017). His essays, reviews, and reported features have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, and The New York Review of Books and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He spent a decade at the International Crisis Group, where he was director of the Arab-Israeli Project, and has taught at Bard College. Originally from California, he lives in Jerusalem.

Kenji Yoshino is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law and the Director of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. A graduate of Harvard (AB summa cum laude), Oxford (MSc as a Rhodes Scholar) and Yale (JD), he specializes in constitutional law, antidiscrimination law, and law and literature. He is the author of three books: Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights; A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare’s Plays Teach Us About Justice; and Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial. Yoshino has published in major academic journals, including the Harvard Law Review, the Stanford Law Review, and the Yale Law Journal. He has also written for more popular forums, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. He makes regular appearances on radio and television programs, such as NPR, CNN, PBS and MSNBC. In 2011, Yoshino was elected to the Harvard Board of Overseers for a six-year term (serving as President of that body in the 2016-17 academic year). He also serves on the Board of the Brennan Center for Justice and on the External Advisory Panel for Diversity and Inclusion for the World Bank Group. He has won numerous awards for his teaching and scholarship, including the Podell Distinguished Teaching Award in 2014, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award in 2016, and an honorary degree from Pomona College in 2018.