PEN America Gap Year/Postgrad Fellowship Program: Fall 2021/Spring 2022

PEN America, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of literature and human rights, offers a unique learning opportunity for individuals who are passionate about human rights, free speech, and creative expression, and interested in how the nonprofit sector works. This fellowship opportunity will require a commitment of nine months, starting approximately September 8, 2021 and ending June 1, 2022. It is ideal for a student seeking to take a “gap year” either post grad, between studies, or pausing undergraduate or graduate school for the 2021–22 academic year due to COVID-19-related disruptions.

Our fellowship program will operate from our headquarters in New York City, and potentially our offices in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. We hope the fellowship will offer the opportunity for in-person participation, depending upon applicable health and safety considerations. Applicants needing a fully virtual arrangement are also welcome to apply and should indicate this requirement in their application. Fellows will be welcomed as members of their assigned team and participate fully in the community of PEN America, including team and staff meetings, professional development offerings, and social opportunities.

The fellowship provides an opportunity to work with one of the following PEN America departments: Artists at Risk Connection (NY), Communications (NY), Development (NY), Finance and Administration (NY), Free Expression Programs (NY and Washington, D.C.), Literary Programs (NY and LA), Prison and Justice Writing (NY). Each of these departments will provide a unique and rich learning experience, and more information about their work can be found by exploring the PEN America website ( Candidates can express interest in one or more of these departments in their application, although it is envisioned that fellows will be assigned to one area for the duration of their program. To learn more about the 2020-2021 fellowship cohort, please visit our alumni page.

Examples of the types available opportunities include the below:

  • PEN America’s Communications Department: A fellowship with the communications department is designed to provide a crash course in nonprofit and advocacy communications at a dynamic organization that works on both United States and international issues. Depending on experience and interest, communications fellows might: own and write a new newsletter vertical to broaden PEN America’s digital audiences; manage the communications campaign around one of our marquee projects; or write and produce regular features on our website, including author interviews, Q&As, podcasts, and videos.
  • PEN America’s Literary Awards: This fellowship provides the opportunity to participate in all aspects of PEN America’s 2022 Literary Awards cycle.The PEN America Literary Awards confer over $330,000 annually to writers and translators, administering distinct awards and grants in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, science writing, biography, translation, and more. Fellows will participate directly in program development and regular communication with PEN America’s literary affiliates. They will gain hands-on experience and learn the operational details of executing a literary awards program, from book submissions to industry communications to ceremony production.
  • PEN America’s Literary Programs: This fellowship offers opportunities across the breadth of PEN America’s literary programming, including its World Voices Festival, PEN Out Loud and other public events series, and the Emerging Voices Fellowship and other support programs. Fellows will have opportunities to interact with writers and the literary community as well as learn about developing and producing public events virtually and in person. Participants will also gain hands-on publishing experience by assisting with each step of the anthology development process: submissions and curation, editing, layout, design, and book distribution.
  • PEN America’s Free Expression Programs: This fellowship involves research and advocacy on pressing free expression issues, with a particular focus on free speech on U.S. campuses; press freedoms and other U.S. free expression issues; support for writers at risk globally; and regional advocacy and programming focused on Eurasia, Myanmar, and China. Fellows will have the opportunity to develop skills and gain direct experience in drafting advocacy materials, providing input to thematic reports and preparing for major advocacy campaigns and events.
  • PEN America’s Washington, D.C. Office: This fellowship focuses on free expression advocacy in Washington, D.C., including engaging with Congress and the executive branch to advocate on free expression issues and their various policy implications. Areas of focus include the collapse of local journalism, press freedom, protest rights, digital freedom and technology, disinformation, international human rights, and others. Fellows will have the opportunity to develop skills and gain direct experience in Washington advocacy, including through drafting legislation and other advocacy materials, conducting intensive legislative and policy research, and assisting the other dimensions of PEN America’s Washington, D.C. portfolio.
  • PEN America’s Development Department: This fellowship offers a unique opportunity to work alongside our development team through direct involvement in daily development-related activities and long-term projects. A unique and enriched learning experience will be obtained as they interact with the team, perform research on current and potential donors, provide support with database initiatives, and assist with the preparation for events—both online and (eventually) in-person. *Please note that for the development department only, there is an opportunity to begin in the summer. Applicants interested in an early start should indicate this on their application, with the dates of their summer availability.
  • PEN America’s Finance and Administration Department: A fellowship with the finance and administration department provides a hands-on experience as a means to understand the intricacies of finance in the nonprofit arena. Working closely with experienced members of a dedicated team, fellows will take a measured approach to further build their knowledge base while developing competencies in finance, accounting, and project coordination. They can expect to gain a robust understanding of organizational management and gain experience working in a fast-paced environment.
  • PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC): An ARC fellowship includes research and outreach to identify and expand the vast network of arts and human rights organizations assisting artists at risk; drafting content for social media platforms, the website, and communications/outreach; and supporting prospect research and other fundraising efforts to expand funding for the initiative. Fellows will communicate with individual artists at risk worldwide and liaise with ARC’s global network of organizations in order to connect artists to support. They will also have the opportunity to monitor news and cases concerning the repression of artistic expression worldwide, including assisting with press releases.
  • PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing: This fellowship supports all aspects of PEN America’s decades-long work to encourage, honor, and find an audience for writers who are incarcerated. Fellows will work with writers inside and outside of prison through the mentorship program, assist in the annual writing awards process, plan public events, and develop digital and other published content. Fellows will also explore the broader public conversation around mass incarceration and engage with the community supporting advocacy for arts, education, and the right to read and create in prisons.

Candidates representing diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply. Additionally, candidates who would be balancing the fellowship (in place of school) along with outside employment are also encouraged to apply and should indicate this in their application for special consideration regarding schedule flexibility.

Desired Attributes:

  • Ability to clearly identify their personal goals for the program and what they hope to gain from the fellowship
  • Ability to demonstrate skills and abilities and to provide references to support this
  • Knowledge of and interest in global free expression and creative freedom issues
  • Strong research, writing, organizational, and administrative skills
  • Ability to communicate challenges and find solutions
  • Ability to work quickly, stay highly organized, and multitask in a fast-paced environment
  • Comfortable with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and G Suite; experience with Adobe, Canva, and other design tools a plus
  • Experience managing social media accounts, drafting social media content, and working with websites
  • Proficiency in Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, or other languages a plus but not required


  • Must be able to provide proof of authorization to study in the United States
  • Must be able to provide proof of enrollment or acceptance into an academic program of study for the academic year of 2021–22 or 2022–23, or prepare a document that explains their academic history with academic plans or postgrad aspirations (if recently graduated)
  • Must be available to start during September 2021, and with an anticipated end date of June 1, 2021. Minor variations on these dates may be considered
  • Must commit to 24–35 hours, and four or five days per week, within normal weekday business hours
  • While this is an unpaid fellowship, participants will receive a stipend to cover costs associated with commuting within New York City

To apply, Please Prepare:

  • A resume or CV, one to two pages maximum
  • A cover letter indicating your interest in the fellowship (including which PEN America department interests you the most), how the fellowship will support future plans or current studies/projects, and the skills you would bring to the fellowship
  • A separate short statement explaining your academic status and why a gap year is planned
  • A work sample that demonstrates your proficiency as a writer, researcher, advocate, or communicator, preferably with applicability to PEN America’s work (five pages maximum)

The above must be sent via email to [email protected] with a subject line that includes “PEN America Fellowship,” the department you are interested in, and your first and last name (for example, “PEN America Fellowship – Development Department – Jane Doe”).

The application deadline has been extended through August 15th, 2021 to accommodate the remaining opening positions. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the positions are filled.

PEN America is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate in its hiring practices, and in order to build the strongest possible workforce, actively seeks a diverse applicant pool.

No phone calls, please. 

About PEN America:

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.