PEN America works tirelessly to defend free expression, support persecuted writers, and promote literary culture. Here are some of the latest ways PEN America is speaking out.

week of january 30:

  • Imani Perry, the prize-winning author and scholar, spoke at the finale of PEN America’s citywide Birmingham Reads project, which encouraged the city to read together Perry’s National Book Award-winning title South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation. It is a highlight of the PEN Across America program, which brings the PEN mission to 10 chapters across the country.
  • PEN America filed an Amicus brief in Honeyfund v. DeSantis, a challenge to the Florida “Stop W.O.K.E.” law. “The negative ramifications of HB 7 on the free expression rights of Floridians cannot be overstated,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of PEN America Washington and free expression programs.
  • PEN America and the Brooklyn Public Library kicked off their Freedom to Read Advocacy Institute. We sat down with Summer Boismier, the Oklahoma teacher who lost her job for providing the library’s QR code and is now part of the institute.
  • PEN America members and supporters gathered in Los Angeles for the annual New Year New Books party at the Sean Kelly Gallery. The event was hosted by Jade Chang, Catie Disabato, Morgan Parker, Susan Orlean, Jason Richman, Traci Thomas, David L. Ulin, and KK Wootton. Ulin and Michelle Tea spoke, partygoers perused books from PEN America members and sang a rousing round of Happy Birthday for PEN America’s centenary. 

New Year New Books 2023, Los Angeles

  • PEN America called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s announcement of a legislation that would ban critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI) at universities and give boards of trustees hiring and firing power “a grave threat to free speech and academic freedom.” Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, said the proposals “represent nothing less than an effort to substitute the dictates of elected officials for the historic autonomy of higher education institutions.” He wrote in the Daily Beast that “attacks on the autonomy of colleges and universities constitute a crisis of campus free expression.”
  • PEN America also reacted with grave disappointment to the College Board’s release of a new framework for an Advanced Placement African American Studies—eliminating readings about Black feminism, critical race theory and the Black Lives Matter movement— after significant criticism of the original course from DeSantis. The College Board has claimed that the changes are rooted in pedagogical concerns rather than political ones, but still “risks empowering such  attempts to exert ideological control over the freedom to learn,” Young said.
  • Current published a portion of PEN America’s Hate in the Headlines report, showing the dangers of both-sides journalism.
  • As Myanmar marked 2 years since the military coup, PEN America called for free expression and other fundamental rights to be respected, and for all those jailed for exercising their freedom to write to be released, including Wai Moe Naing, a writer and activist from Monywa serving a 10-year sentence for “incitement” and facing multiple additional charges.
  • PEN America said the decision by the Orange Unified School District removing a digital library app due to concerns raised over two books with LGBTQ+ themes represents an overreaction. Allison Lee, managing director of PEN America’s Los Angeles office, said the decision sets a “worrisome precedent.”
  • PEN America responded to the postponement of an exhibit of Soviet architecture at Cooper Union. Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager of free expression and education, said the closure “raises questions about the school’s commitment to academic and artistic freedom.”
  • Prison Arts Collective (PAC), a collaborative based at San Diego State University dedicated to expanding access to the arts to people who are incarcerated in California, announced a special collaboration with PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program on the seventh season of Outside:Inside Radio.
  • PEN America said it is deeply concerned over the arrest of “Cop City” protesters in Georgia on “domestic terrorism” charges in the wake of protests over the killing of environmental and justice activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who was shot by a police officer. “News that Governor Kemp and law enforcement in Georgia are arresting protesters on charges of ‘domestic terrorism’ is deeply concerning and could have wide-reaching chilling impacts on the right to protest in Georgia,” said Kate Ruane, PEN America’s US free expression program director. 

Week of January 23:

  • This week, we announced that the 2023 PEN America Literary Gala will be hosted by Colin Jost and honor Lorne Michaels with the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award and Ted Sarandos of Netflix with the Business Visionary Award. PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said Michaels’ “unique brand of uproarious and fearless political and social sketches forever changed television and comedy,” while Sarandos was chosen for “the transformative impact of Netflix on storytelling, society at large, and on book adaptations as a critical source of content.”
  • For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, PEN America celebrated with a New Year New Books party in Manhattan’s Sean Kelly Gallery. The literary host committee included Zaina Arafat, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Frances Cha, Karen Chee, Robert Jones Jr., Zain Khalid, Sally Wen Mao, and Prince Shakur

New Year New Books 2023, Manhattan

  • Nossel spoke to The New York Times about Salman Rushdie’s new book, Victory City, for which PEN America will host a launch event. “They failed to silence him,” she said. “The publishing of this book is a very powerful demonstration of that.”
  • Book lovers staged a “read-in” at the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday for a Let Utah Read event fighting book bans in schools. Organized by the Utah chapter of PEN America, in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, Utah Library Association, and EveryLibrary, the read-in was followed by remarks from speakers including bestselling authors Erika L. Sánchez and Shannon Hale.
  • PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program and the Vera Institute of Justice launched The Human Toll of Jail, a collection of essays about the harsh realities of life behind bars.
  • Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education, wrote for Inside Higher Education with Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, on how K-12 focused educational gag orders affect history education at the college level, too.
  • Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk programs, said PEN America “condemns the Indian authorities’ order to Twitter and YouTube to block a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is a flagrant attempt to censor online content.”
  • PEN Los Angeles held a panel discussion on the writing and urgency of trans stories, with moderator and author Cyrus Dunham, novelist James Hannaham, poet and curator Anaïs Duplan, and literary critic Stephanie Burt.  “When we think about transness and gender and writing, the discussion often circles around the ways we write about gender or the ways we write about transness, the ways we write about identity,” Dunham said. “And, I know for me as a writer, that causality and influence are multidirectional. It’s not that I write about gender and transness. It’s also that the experience of writing shapes my gender, shapes my embodiment, shapes my identity.”

  • PEN America condemned ongoing efforts by the Russian Federation to stifle free expression by muzzling independent media outlets and civil society. “The Russian Federation is using every tactic in the book to silence criticism and open debate. Laws that define organizations as ‘undesirable,’ that limit their options to receive funding, and that ban independent media are all part of this disturbing trend. The only thing that is truly undesirable is this unrelenting attack on free expression and human rights,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia programs at PEN America. 
  • Authors Franny Choi and Saket Soni spoke with PEN America about their new books for the PEN Ten interview series.
  • PEN America announced the final event in its Birmingham Reads Project, a conversation with author and scholar Dr. Imani Perry on Feb. 1.
  • Liz Woolery, PEN America’s Digital Policy Lead, said Meta’s decision to end its suspension of former President Trump “appears to be based on a reasoned weighing of current threats and the value of public access to the views and positions of politicians and other public figures. The real question will be how Meta implements and enforces its new guardrails.” 
  • PEN America said legislation introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Co.), seeking to ban TikTok should deeply alarm anyone who cares about free expression and how we use the internet to create, collaborate, and connect with each other.
  • PEN America mourned the loss of authors Paul La Farge, a longtime PEN America member and contributor, and Victor Navasky, a former PEN America board member.

WEEK OF JANUARY 16:

  • CEO Suzanne Nossel wrote about the crisis in social media in a Saturday Essay for the Wall Street Journal. “The challenge of reining in what’s bad about social media has everything to do with what’s good about it. The platforms are an undeniable boon for free expression, public discourse, information sharing and human connection.”
  • PEN America announced the longlists for its 2023 Literary Awards, featuring more than 100 authors and translators in categories including the novel, short story collection, poetry, science writing, essay, biography, and translation. The longlists range from some of the year’s most exciting debuts to books by living legends, with nominees including Jessamine ChanPercival EverettJorie GrahamAda LimónImani PerryDavid SedarisSolmaz SharifMorgan TaltyEd Yong, and more. PEN America will present 11 book awards, conferring nearly $350,000 to writers and translators, at the Literary Awards Ceremony at New York’s Town Hall onThursday, March 2.
  • PEN America’s
  • Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education, wrote for the Daily Beast about an AP African American Studies course that was rejected by Florida’s Department of Education. “When politicians go to war with teachers, students always lose.”
  • PEN America trustee Min Jin Lee was featured on Dua Lipa‘s podcast talking about current efforts to ban books. “Throughout the history of time, writers have always been dangerous people. … Books are dangerous because they change people. And I think sometimes, instead of feeling persecuted, I feel very powerful. I know I have the capacity to change a person’s mind.”
  • PEN Los Angeles held a panel discussion on Craft and Conscience as part of its You Are a Writer program, featuring Mira Jacob, Courtney Lilly and Kavita Das.

  • PEN America welcomed Harvard University’s decision to restore its fellowship to Ken Roth, something the organization had called on the university to do. “It is important for institutions to be able to recognize where they have made an error that encroaches on free speech and academic freedom and to correct it; Harvard deserves credit for that,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education.
  • The Literary Action coalition announced it would hold a Literary Activism Summit in New York on Feb. 25. The event will feature discussions about the future of reading and writing, and a keynote conversation between Alejandro Heredia, the community outreach manager for PEN America, and Iris Morales, a longtime activist, educator, and author whose work focuses on social justice.
  • Prison Arts Collective announced a special collaboration with PEN America for the seventh season of its podcast, Outside: Inside Radio.
  • In the latest episode of PEN America’s Works of Justice podcast, Malcolm Tariq, senior manager of editorial projects for PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing, spoke to Hugh Ryan about his new book, The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison.
  • PEN America issued a statement in response to the closing of an art exhibit addressing race relations and anti-Black violence at Arkansas Tech University. The exhibit was removed following a protest march by students who called the art “racially insensitive.” Following the march, the artist Dominique Simmons requested that her pieces be removed from the university, which responded by temporarily closing the exhibit.

Week of January 9:

WEEK OF JANUARY 2:

PEN AMERiCA’s 100th year

WATCH: In PEN America’s 100th year, our mission was as vital as ever. We celebrated words, and we fought for the right to be heard. With your help, we can write a better future.

 

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WEEK OF DECEMBER 25:

WEEK OF DECEMBER 19:

  • PEN America called on the government of Iran to release Iranian actress, activist and literary translator Taraneh Alidoosti after she was arrested and detained by Iranian authorities for criticizing the execution of Moheen Shekari, the first person to be executed in connection with the ongoing protests in Iran. PEN member Nicole Krauss wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about Alidoosti, who translated Krauss’ novels into Farsi.
  • PEN America said it was “encouraged” by a scathing ruling from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) against Iran for its persecution of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) and systematic abuse of the judicial process. The decision comes in response to a petition by PEN America and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR), and supported by the IWA, on behalf of Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Arash Ganji.
  • Rolling Stone praised PEN America for its support of Iranian rap artist Toomaj Salehi. “We shouldn’t underestimate the power of raising awareness and creating public pressure.”
  • PEN America condemned the alarming spread of intimidation, harassment, and violence at protests organized by far-right and extremist groups against drag story hours and other drag shows across the country. “These violent responses to drag performers and members of the LGBTQ+ community strike at the heart of the freedom to gather, read, perform, and share community safely, all bedrocks of a free society,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America. 
  • PEN America was pleased to learn the Wentzville School District in Missouri returned 200 books that were temporarily banned to school library shelves, following an open letter signed by over 40 authors and illustrators calling on Missouri School Boards and Districts to reverse book bans. The organization remains concerned, however, that 17 books have been permanently banned. 
  • The U.S. Education Department’s civil rights enforcement arm launched an investigation into the school district in Granbury, Texas, whose superintendent was secretly recorded ordering librarians to remove LGBTQ-themed library books. “It’s not uncommon to see people explicitly saying that they want to remove LGBTQ books because they believe they are indoctrinating students,” PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman told Propublica.
  • The threat to librarians around book banning was highlighted in an article in coda that featured research from PEN America’s Banned in the USA report and quotes from PEN free expression experts Jonathan Friedman and Nadine Farid Johnson.
  • In this week’s PEN spotlight, we spoke with Elizabeth Strout about her latest novel, Lucy by the Sea, and Rešoketšwe Manenzhe, author of Scatterlings.

Week of December 12:

PEN America Town Hall

Erroll McDonald, Chris Beha, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Min Jin Lee, Suzanne Nossel, Roxane Gay and Ayad Akhtar.

 

WEEK OF December 5:

Tetyana Teren at the funeral of Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko.

Tetyana Teren, executive director of PEN Ukraine, stands over the coffin of Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko, abducted during Russian occupation and found in a mass grave.

 

  • On their return from a trip to Ukraine, where they released a new report on the erasure of Ukrainian culture, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and COO Dru Menaker reflected on the bravery of Ukrainian writers and citizens as they shared the devastation they witnessed, and culture that shows sign of new life. Members of PEN America’s delegation to Ukraine attended the funeral of Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko, abducted during Russian occupation and found in a mass grave.
  • PEN America, We Need Diverse Books and 70 banned authors and illustrators delivered a letter to the Duval County, Florida, school board, calling on them to return 176 diverse book titles to shelves. Freedom to Read Program director Kasey Meehan spoke with the Forward about the “wholesale removal of challenged books” in Duval County exemplifying “an insidious trend”
  • PEN America joined with partner organizations to send a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, expressing concern in the case against Julian Assange, and calling for charges against him to be dropped.
  • Jonathan Friedman,  director of Free Expression and Education programs, issued an objection to a resolution by the City Council in League City that bars the use of public money for purchasing, displaying, or stocking books certain books in public libraries. “Restricting the purchase and circulation of library materials by government edict is anathema to the principles of free speech and access to information that undergird a democracy,” he said.
  • Laurie Halse Anderson and Nadine Farid JohnsonWashington director of PEN America, spoke to San Francisco public radio KALW about the growing movement to censor books in classrooms.
  • Director of Free Expression and Education Programs Jonathan Friedman gave the keynote address at the National Council of Urban Education Associations’ fall meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. After his presentation, Jonathan joined Amir Soltani, Iranian-American author of Zahra’s Paradise, to visit the Salt Lake City Public Library to talk about why states, districts, and schools are banning books.
  • PEN America and PEN Sydney condemned the recent arrests of three Iranian writers—Roozbeh Sohani, Aida Amidi, and Alireza Adineh—and raised alarm over the continued targeting of writers for their free expression. “Given the Iranian government’s surge of baseless arrests and horrific record of mistreating political prisoners, we are raising an urgent alarm regarding their safety, and call for their immediate release,” said Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s director of Free Expression at Risk Programs.
  • Author Paisley Rekdal, leader of PEN America’s Utah Chapter, spoke out against book bans in Alpine, Utah, where 22 books are banned, and 17 will require parent permission slips. “The type of books that they pulled tend to fit the national profile of other books that have been banned, which is that they are primarily written by LGBTQ authors or deal with issues of sexuality, gender, LGBTQ issues, as well as race and racial identity.”

Week of november 28:

PEN America and PEN Ukraine release new report

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, PEN Ukraine Executive Director Tetyana Teren, and novelist Dave Eggers in Kyiv.

 

  • PEN America and PEN Ukraine released a new report, Ukrainian Culture Under Attack: Erasure of Ukrainian Culture in Russia’s War Against Ukraine, in Kyiv, jointly with a visiting delegation of prominent American writers — Barbara Demick, Dave Eggers, and Peter Godwin –  who came to stand in solidarity with Ukrainian writers and bear witness to the war’s impact. The Washington Post was among the outlets sharing the report’s findings. “Our small delegation is trying to tell Ukrainian writers they are not alone,” Eggers said. “They are not forgotten. We’re here to say they are not forgotten. We are here to support them in any way we can. We are here to listen and then report what we find.”

  • PEN America called on Algerian authorities to explain the arrest of writer Lazhari Labter, or release him immediately. “The arrest of Lazhari Labter signals a growing threat against all writers in Algeria,” said Veronica Tien, Writers at Risk manager in the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center at PEN America.
  • PEN America condemned the indictment in Iran of rap artist Toomaj Salehi, who could  face the death penalty for songs he wrote in support of ongoing mass protests across Iran. “The indictment of Toomaj Salehi for his music with charges that raise the specter of the death sentence, is both obscene and horrifying.,”  said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC).
  • Jeremy Young, a senior manager for PEN America, spoke to the Associated Press about a judge in Kansas who resigned a part-time teaching job over what he said was an unsuccessful attempt by the university to pressure students into canceling an event featuring a leader of a group that opposes LGBTQ rights. “Canceling conservative speakers on campus is a real problem,” Young said. “It’s not made up.” But he called the University of Kansas case “complicated,” because while pressure to cancel an event is a “bad call,” the event went ahead.
  • Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, was quoted about right-wing school board members in Sarasota County, Florida, who ousted a school superintendent over the district’s adherence to public health guidance during the coronavirus pandemic. “The new playbook of total ideological control is in full swing.”
  • PEN America, in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library, hosted the Break Out 2022 Prison Writing Awards, featuring Asia Kate Dillon, Kara Young, Linda La, José Olivarez, Jermaine Archer, Dario Pena and Tyrone Taylor. The event also launched their new anthology, Variations on an Undisclosed Location

Week of November 21:

  • Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, spoke to Vice about the removal of 3,000 graphic novels from school libraries in Owasso, Oklahoma, after one parent complained. Friedman called the restriction a potential infringement on students’ constitutional rights.
  • PEN America called lawmakers’ efforts to pressure South Dakota State University leaders to cancel a kid-friendly drag show “alarming,” especially amid a growing movement to censor LGBTQ+ identities. “It is not the place of elected officials to pick and choose what events and whose expression is allowable on campus, meddling in students’ First Amendment rights,” said Friedman.
  • A new report by PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection and the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SouthernDefenders) documented a troubling rise in restrictions on artistic freedom throughout Africa that has been exacerbated by recent military coups, political crises, flawed elections, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, titled We Have Always Had to Fight: African Artists on Human Rights and Artistic Freedom, captures the growing erosion of spaces for artistic expression across the continent. Read more in Hyperallergic.
  • Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of PEN America’s Washington Office, called the State Department’s recognition of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as head of government, and therefore subject to sovereign immunity in a civil case regarding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, “deeply disappointing.” The move “sets a dangerous precedent, putting journalists and dissidents around the world at greater risk.” 
  • PEN America called on Algerian authorities to explain the arrest on Sunday of writer Lazhari Labter, or release him immediately. “The arrest of Lazhari Labter signals a growing threat against all writers in Algeria,” said Veronica Tien, Writers at Risk manager in the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center at PEN America.
  • PEN America’s Banned in the USA report was cited in a Texas Monthly feature, “The Year We Banned Books.”

Week of November 14:

Flashpoints: Los Angeles 2022

  • On November 16, PEN America and the Los Angeles Public Library presented the Flashpoints program Censored: Free Speech & Hollywood, featuring Gillian Horvat, Jeremy Geltzer, Dr. Gerald Horne, and Maya Montañez Smukler for a panel conversation on the history of free speech in Hollywood.
  • In partnership with the international democracy building organization National Democratic Institute, PEN America launched the first Field Manual against Online Harassment in Arabic ( دليل ميداني للحماية من الإساءة و المضايقات الإلكترونية,) to support Arabic-speaking writers, journalists, and human rights activists who are trying to make their voices heard while facing online abuse and harassment
  • The U.S. House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Commissoin and the Senate Human Rights Caucus co-hosted a briefing  Nov. 14, in commemoration of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. Managing Director of PEN America Washington, Nadine Farid Johnson, moderated the panel, which focused on the risks to and plights of writers in India, Zimbabwe, and Russian-occupied Ukraine. 
  • New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman discussed Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America at an intimate Pen America Author’s Evening.
  • PEN America announced its 2023 Literary Grant winners for literary works-in-progress. Juried by panels of esteemed, award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics who are committed to recognizing their contemporaries, these winning works-in-progress show the potential for lasting literary impact.
  • Nossel and Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, were quoted for the feature Star-Spangled Bans: How Trump’s Call to Preserve U.S. History Energized a Movement to Erase It.
  • PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) and PEN International, in partnership with Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), launched a new campaign “Voces Presas” (Imprisoned Voices) to shine a light on the stories of imprisoned Cuban artists: poet María Cristina Garrido and rappers Richard Zamora Brito and Randy Arteaga-Rivera.
Day of the Imprisoned Writer panel

Stanislav Aseyev, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Congressman Jim McGovern, Aatish Tasser and Nadine Farid Johnson at a briefing for the Day of the Imprisoned Writer.

See the latest PEN America press releases.