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Craft and Conscience: How to Write About Social Issues

Writing is often a political act, no matter the genre. But for writers committed to advancing social justice, putting pen to page can be intimidating. Who gets to write what? How does a writer balance authority and humility when writing toward change? Where should writers turn when work results in powerful pushback? And how can community aid the writer’s journey? Inspired by Kavita Das’ essential book of the same name, join PEN America for a panel program for early career writers to explore the best practices of building a writing career with purpose.

This is a virtual and free event. 



Kavita Das worked in social change for close to fifteen years, addressing issues ranging from community and housing inequities, to public health disparities, to racial injustice. Although Kavita remains committed to social justice issues, she left the social change sector to become a full-time writer and to tell the life story of Grammy-nominated Hindustani singer Lakshmi Shankar through her first book Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar (Harper Collins India, June 2019).

At the root of both her writing and social change work is Kavita’s desire to provoke thought and engender change by recognizing and revealing the true ways in which culture, race, and gender intersect especially when it comes to societal inequities. Kavita has been a regular contributor to NBC News Asian America, Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Rumpus. In addition, her work has been published in WIRED, Poets & Writers, Catapult, LitHub, Tin House, Longreads, Kenyon Review, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, CNN, Guernica, McSweeney’s, Fast Company, Quartz, Colorlines, Romper, and elsewhere. She was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize and her full writing portfolio can be found here.

Kavita created the popular “Writing About Social Issues” nonfiction seminar, which inspired her second book, Craft and Conscience: How To Write About Social Issues, and has taught at the New School and Catapult, along with being a frequent guest lecturer. Her essays on social issues have been included in two creative writing textbooks. Kavita received a B.A. in Urban Studies from Bryn Mawr College and a M.B.A. in Marketing from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A native New Yorker, Kavita and her husband, Om try to keep up with their toddler, Daya and Harper, their hound.



Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel is We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Algonquin Books), one of the New York Times Critics’ Top 10 Books of 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Vogue, Glamour, the Wall Street Journal, Elle, Buzzfeed, Transition Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Believer, American Short Fiction and other places. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is currently Features Director at Harper’s Bazaar as well as a contributing writer for The New York Times. Her second novel, Libertie, is published by Algonquin Books and out now.



Mira Jacob photoMira Jacob is a novelist, memoirist, illustrator, and cultural critic. Her graphic memoir Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, named a New York Times Notable Book, as well as a best book of the year by Time, Esquire, Publisher’s Weekly, and Library Journal. It is currently in development as a television series with Film 44.

Her novel The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing was a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers pick, shortlisted for India’s Tata First Literature Award, longlisted for the Brooklyn Literary Eagles Prize and named one of the best books of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews, the Boston Globe, Goodreads, Bustle, and The Millions.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Electric Literature, Tin House, Literary Hub, Guernica, Vogue, and the Telegraph. She is currently the visiting professor at MFA Creative Writing program at The New School, and a founding faculty member of the MFA Program at Randolph College.

She is the co-founder of Pete’s Reading Series in Brooklyn, where she spent 13 years bringing literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry to Williamsburg. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, documentary filmmaker Jed Rothstein, and their son.


Courtney Lilly, who this year renewed his overall deal with ABC Signature, has been with the Studio, part of Disney Television Studios, for seven years. He recently wrapped showrunning the eighth and final season of black-ish, as well as co-showrunning grown-ish, which is now in its fifth season. Lilly started his career as a writer on Arrested Development and has written for shows such as My Boys, The Cleveland Show, and Undateable. He won a Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship in 2000. Before that, he was a reporter for the Providence Journal-Bulletin. Black-ish has been nominated for four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy and has won four NAACP Image Awards for Best Comedy Series. The show won the prestigious Peabody Award in 2015.


This program is co-presented by the Writers Guild Foundation and made possible by the generous support of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Los Angeles Department of Arts and Culture, and the Pasadena Literary Alliance

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