PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression This Week
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 July 3:
- PEN America published “Building Resilience: Identifying Community Solutions to Targeted Disinformation”, which provides critical insight for the 2024 election cycle by examining community strategies to defend against the spread of disinformation in Miami and South Florida; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; and Phoenix, Arizona.
- PEN America mourned the death of Ukrainian author and PEN Ukraine member Victoria Amelina, who died of injuries sustained in a Russian missile attack. Amelina was known for her investigative work in exposing war crimes and advocating for justice, and her death is a tragic loss for the literary community. (Watch the tribute video)
- Nadine Farid Johnson, Managing Director of Free Expression Programs, and author Ashley Hope Pérez spoke to Alyssa Milano for her Sorry Not Sorry Podcast about fighting book bans.
- PEN America in Los Angeles offered a Free Expression Advocacy Institute, a week-long educational and training program for high school and college students to defend free expression.
- PEN Across America Director William Johnson reacted to the closing of Drag Story Hour’s Miami chapter as “sadly predictable.” The group cited the recent passage of six anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the state as making it “unsafe” to carry on in-person programming.
- Jonathan Friedman, director of Free Expression and Education, reacted to a Mississippi law that has caused some libraries to raise the minimum age for a library card to 18 or stop providing access to e-books to minors. “It is shameful that legislators would allow the children of Mississippi to go without library or e-book access to solve a problem that does not exist.”
- PEN America called on Jordanian authorities to lift their ban on the satirical news website Al Hudood. “Blocking a website that publishes satire shows intolerance toward criticism that is troubling, particularly when the same site is readily accessible in neighboring countries where the state of free expression is far more dire,” said Justin Shilad, PEN America’s research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa.
- PEN America joined PEN International in calling on Turkish authorities to immediately release journalist, writer, and PEN Türkiye member Merdan Yanardağ, who was detained on June 26 and charged under anti-terrorism laws after criticizing the government.
- PEN International and PEN America hosted a side event at the 53rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to raise awareness of the deteriorating human rights situation of the creative sector during crises—employing case studies from Iran and Belarus.
Week of June 26:
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) released “Art Is Power,” a report that highlights 20 artists whose work inspired hope in their respective countries, and made them targets of their governments. ARC’s report calls for international organizations to extend the protections afforded to human rights defenders to artists on the frontlines of social and political movements.
- ”Shouting Into the Void,” a new report by PEN America and Meedan, found that millions of social media users face harmful harassment, intimidation, and threats to their free expression online but encounter a “deeply flawed” reporting system that fails at every level to safeguard them and hold abusers to account.
- In response to a decision to “further review” 87 book titles in the Pinellas County, Florida, school district, three organizations— We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), PEN America, and Florida Freedom to Read Project (FFTRP)— along with more than 50 of the affected authors, called on the district to reject second-guessing a diverse and celebrated list of books. Sign the petition.
- PEN America urged institutions of higher education to continue to value and support diversity in the face of the Supreme Court’s June 29 ruling against affirmative action. The decision “risks having a deleterious effect on the future of teaching, learning, and research,” said PEN America’s senior manager of free expression and education Kristen Shahverdian.
- PEN America, in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in 303 Creative v. Elenis, expressed concern that the decision overlooks the risk of legitimizing unlawful discrimination in the name of religious freedom. “When a business entity offering a public accommodation refuses to provide creative services – or any services – based on discriminatory animus, that refusal is unacceptable.” said Kate Ruane, director, Sy Syms U.S. Free Expression Programs.
- In Miami, O Cinema and PEN America partnered to present a one-night screening of No Straight Lines: the Past, Present, and Future of Queer Comics.
- Murong Xuecun, one of China’s most famous contemporary and silenced authors, joined PEN America for the US launch of Deadly Quiet City, eight riveting portraits of Wuhan residents at the dawn of the pandemic. Joining Murong in conversation was New Yorker staff writer Jiayang Fan.
- PEN America Translation Committee member Allison Markin Powell spoke about the transalation manifesto at a frank discussion of the state of translation hosted by The New York Times.
- PEN America filed an amicus brief in the case of Pernell v. Lamb, saying the “Stop W.O.K.E.” law had drastically altered classroom curriculum, making topics such as the work of Fredrick Douglass, jazz, and more off limits. Sy Syms director, U.S. Free Expression Programs, Kate Ruane described the law as “wholly incompatible with the First Amendment.”
- PEN America voiced its support for the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia to rent its facilities to the organization Moms For Liberty for a private event. Moms For Liberty play a central role in censorship and harassment campaigns in American schools. “But the antidote to those who seek to suppress open discourse cannot be to embrace their wrong-headed and pernicious tactics.”
- PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel participated in the 2023 Aspen Ideas Festival, speaking about her experience on the Facebook Oversight Board on the panel “What to Take Down, What to Leave Up, and Why.”
- PEN America praised the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the legality of free speech in Counterman v. Colorado as “important and necessary.”
- PEN International joined PEN Ukraine in condemning the horrific Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk, Eastern Ukraine on June 27. Twelve people had been killed and more than 60 wounded at the time of writing, including writer, PEN Ukraine member and human rights defender Victoria Amelina, who remains in hospital.
- PEN America presented a conversation between Murong Xuecun, one of China’s most famous contemporary and silenced authors, and New Yorker staff writer Jiayang Fan at McNally Jackson Books for the U.S. launch of Xuecun’s new book, Deadly Quiet City—eight riveting portraits of Wuhan residents at the dawn of the pandemic.
- In the latest episode of PEN America’s Works of Justice podcast, Sierra Santiago, PEN America Prison and Justice Writing intern, speaks with director/adaptor Ethan Heard and co-book writer Marcus Scott about the evolution of developing Fidelio for the stage, and the process of incorporating incarcerated musicians in the production.
- PEN America’s director of Digital Safety and Free Expression, Victorya Vilk was quoted in an article detailing how online abuse hinders free expression in an article about the current threat to academic independence.
- PEN America’s Nadine Farid Johnson, Managing Director of Free Expression Programs, spoke to The Los Angeles Times about Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s attempts to stifle free speech in reflection to his recent White House visit.
Suzanne Nossel spoke with Preet Bhahara in a wide-ranging conversation about free speech, censorship, human rights, book bans and diversity.
Kasey Meehan could be heard on Vox’s “In the Weeds” on how book bans threaten democracy.
Week of June 19:
- PEN America, our president Ayad Akhtar, and all our living past presidents endorsed the Freedom to Read statement on the seventieth anniversary of its original release—a document CEO Suzanne Nossel called “as urgent today as the day it was drafted.”
- PEN America condemned the firing of a Georgia teacher for allegedly violating the state’s educational gag order as “shocking” and “harmful.” Elementary school teacher Katie Rinderle read My Shadow is Purple to her fifth-grade students and accused of violating the state’s HB 1084 law, which prohibits teachers from “espousing” certain “divisive concepts” related to race and sex.
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) is joining Culture Resources and Action for Hope to support Sudanese artists at risk due to the devastating conflict that broke out in April of this year with Stand for Sudanese Artists.
- Moira Marquis of the Prison and Justice Writing program spoke about uplifting incarcerated writers alongside former Writing For Justice Fellow, Sterling Cunio—a tenure he held while incarcerated.
- PEN America responded to the Nixa, Missouri school board’s decision to retain Art Spiegelman’s Maus while banning six other titles, celebrating the protection of Maus while condemning the arbitrary banning of the other titles. The board’s decision to keep Maus on the shelves comes after an email campaign launched by PEN America. “I wish they’d just kept their hands off all the books,” said Spiegelman.
- PEN America condemned the banning and violent crackdown on Pride Month events by local authorities in Türkiye. Turkish authorities at all levels of government have taken part in the broader censorship of events for the LGBTQ+ community in the country.
- PEN America’s Jeremy Young and Jonathan Friedman penned an article for the American Association of Colleges and Universities on how the academic institutions can respond to educational gag orders. The article responds to the rise to censorship in higher education since the signing of the Individual Freedom Act by Florida governor Ron DeSantis in April 2022.
- PEN America rejected the decision by the Huntington Beach, California City Council to pursue the legal restriction of library books accessible to minors. “When we ban books, the bullies win,” said bestselling and frequently banned author Elana K. Arnold.
- PEN America denounced the increased prison sentence of Algerian journalist Ihsane el-Kadi by the Algerian government. El Kadi’s sentence was raised seven years from his original five-year sentence in April and following his arrest in December 2022. PEN America continues to call for his immediate release.
- PEN America called for the dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at censoring research on the effect of mis- and dis-information on U.S. politics and elections. The House Judiciary committee, along with conservative legal advocacy group America First Legal, has spearheaded the effort against such initiatives at Stanford, University of Washington and other institutions, as reported by the New York Times.
- PEN America hosted the 2023 Pride Picnic with Next Gen PEN America. The event featured a drag queen story hour and live performance from drag queen Sierra LaPuerta, who also participated in a panel discussion with writer and filmmaker Achiro P. Olwoch. The panel was moderated by PEN America’s Nicholas Perez.
- PEN America said a policy adopted by the University of Buffalo Student Association that restricts certain clubs from being officially recognized is “short-sighted” and shows “the ripple effects of censorship,”
- The closing of Arizona State University’s T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development and the firing of its director after an outcry over an event with conservative commentators is an “unfortunate outcome for academic freedom,” PEN America said.
- Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy lead at PEN America, condemned the “arbitrary” increase in the prison sentence against Algerian journalist Ihsane el-Kadi.
Week of June 12:
- PEN America urged Missouri schools to keep Art Spiegelman’s Maus on their shelves in the face of bans from three school districts. Spiegelman sat down with PEN America to discuss the attack on his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust and the current threat posed by censorship in the American education system.
- PEN America condemned the removal of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir from an AP Language curriculum in South Carolina as “outrageous government censorship.” The removal occurred as a result of complaints from students including the misconception that it’s “illegal” to discuss systemic racism in the state’s classrooms.
- PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman responded to Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ attempt to define restricted access to a book as anything other than a ban. Friedman’s op-ed in USA Today came in the face of the removal of Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem The Hill We Climb from a public school in the state.
- PEN America announced the expansion of their Literary Awards Grants & Fellowships with the PEN/Bare Life Review Grant. The grant aims to recognize the undeniable importance of migrant narratives in supporting works from immigrant and refugee authors.
- PEN America announced the 2023 Emerging Voices Fellows, selected from the largest applicant pool in the program’s history. The 12 writers come from varied backgrounds and experiences and have each been assigned a mentor for the duration of the five-month immersive program.
- Moira Marquis of the Prison and Justice Writing Program penned a series of suggestions for prison officials that would encourage free expression in prisons. Her article in LitHub comes in response to a proposed New York Department of Corrections policy that would have prevented incarcerated writers from receiving payment. 24 hours after the Prison and Justice Writing Program launched an email campaign to protest the detective, it was halted by the department.
- On June 15 PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection held a day of action for Don’t Delete Art with an Instagram sticker campaign and bringing their manifesto, signed by more than a thousand people, to the Meta office in New York. Don’t Delete Art’s mission is to ensure greater support of artistic expression on social media.
- Allison Lee responded to the decision by the school board in Temecula, CA to fire its schools’ superintendent, calling the firing “misguided and chilling” and raising serious questions about free expression and due process in the district.
Week of June 5:
- PEN America asked people to send a letter to the Miami-Dade school that restricted books including The Hill We Climb by the poet Amanda Gorman.
- PEN America joined a Celebration of Books at the Sanctuary for Banned Books at Coral Gables, FL, including a giveaway of recently challenged books including The Hill We Climb by the poet Amanda Gorman. The event featured reading by Miami-Dade County Poet Laureate Richard Blanco and Edwidge Danticat. PEN Across America Director William Johnson spoke at the celebration.
- PEN America welcomed the decision by the New York State Department of Corrections to rescind a proposed directive that would have undermined the free expression rights of incarcerated writers by limiting their ability to publish. The decision came after PEN America created a campaign to oppose the proposed directive.
- PEN America condemned the arrests last Sunday by Hong Kong police of 23 citizens, including performance artists Sanmu Chen and Chan Mei Tung, at a gathering to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection led an in-person panel at the 2023 RightsCon in Costa Rica on “Art in the age of automatic production,” featuring artists and IP Lawyers to tackle issues of regulation and the social implications of artificial intelligence on cultural production.
- PEN America said a decision by New College of Florida, which recently underwent significant leadership changes at the behest of Governor Ron DeSantis, not to renew the contract of Erik Wallenberg, its only U.S. history professor was an “appalling act of political retaliation.”
Week of May 29:
PEN America’s Nadine Farid Johnson delivered the keynote address at the 2023 Biblioteksdagarna, highlighting the rise of book bans in schools and libraries across the United States and the repercussions of educational censorship for democracies around the globe.
PEN America joined PEN International and other PEN Centers in continuing to call for the immediate and unconditional release of poet Galal El-Behairy, who has been arbitrarily detained for five years by Egypt and announced that he would be escalating his hunger strike in Badr Prison by refusing to drink water.
Liesl Gerntholtz, founding director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, wrote in The Washington Post that the destruction of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut raises again the urgency of holding Russia to account for the obliteration of Ukraine’s cultural infrastructure.
PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) supported the exhibition “How are you?” in Kyiv, organized by Ukrainian Museum of Contemporary Art, to consider how the full-scale invasion of Ukraine will live in collective memory.
PEN America’s Eurasia and Advocacy Director Polina Sadovskaya participated in the discussion, “The role of writers in the Armenian-American partnership,”with PEN Armenia’s president Armen Ohanyan hosted by the Armenian Embassy in DC in honor of the anniversary of the First Armenian Republic on May 28th.
- PEN America said no lawmaker has the right to defund a university for protected speech following controversial remarks by a student graduation speaker at the City University of New York that sparked a lawmaker’s call to withdraw funding.
Pen America’s Artists at Risk Connection co-organized and presented with Global Voices, an online workshop called “Here we are. Digital security, harassment prevention, and freedom of expression for artists in the digital environment” for human rights defenders, artists, and activists in the framework of the 20th International Human Rights Film Festival (FICDH).
ARC organized an in-person regional workshop in Chiapas, Mexico, inviting 13 prominent indigenous artists from across Latin America to examine the particular challenges and risks facing indigenous artists and to explore ways organizations, including ARC, can better support this community.
In response to news that Seminole, FL school officials reportedly offered to remove LGBTQ pages from a high school yearbook, Peris Tushabe, PEN America’s program coordinator for Free Expression and Education, said “The campaign to erase LGBTQ+ identities in schools continues to reach new lows.”
- On the Works of Justice blog, Dyego M. Foddrell wrote from Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, about what it means to be redeemed, or if redemption is possible for someone like him.
- In the PEN Ten interview, trans activist and scholar Grace Lavery talked about Pleasure and Efficacy, which dissects a myriad of different genres in the modern period to talk about what transness means, and what transitioning actually looks like.
Week of May 22:
- PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel spoke about the lawsuit against Escambia County and another school’s decision to restrict Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, on All In with Chris Hayes and Morning Joe.
- PEN America released a statement on the Gorman book controversy, saying “depriving students of exemplary literary works flies in the face of our basic constitutional freedoms.”
- Jeremy C. Young, in conjunction with Jeffrey Sachs, reported that May was a prolific month for new educational gag orders, with three new laws adopted and several more appearing imminent. They found that so-called “DEI ban” bills go far beyond banning DEI initiatives to enable the partisan takeover of many aspects of university governance.
- Kasey Meehan spoke to the BBC about the escalation of book bans in the United States.
- PEN America warned that a sweeping bill that bans drag performances in Montana would effectively criminalize a wide range of sartorial and artistic choices for performers in a breathtaking array of contexts.
- A statement signed by 57 PEN Centers worldwide called for espionage charges to be dropped against the Chinese writer and journalist Dong Yuyu and for his immediate release from detention.
- Jonathan Friedman discussed how the history of authoritarianism can teach us about today’s censorship efforts in LGBTQ Nation.
- Shannon Jankowski wrote about a new Twitter policy that will make it even harder for journalists to root out disinformation in The Hill.
- Jeremy Young was interviewed on All Sides with Ann Fisher about how diversity training restrictions are contributing to educational censorship on college campuses.
- Lit Hub’s podcast, The Literary Life, featured a reading of Variations on an Undisclosed Location, an anthology of PEN America Prison and Justice Writing’s program, that highlights the voices of incarcerated writers and the impact of their stories.
- For our PEN Ten interview, we featured Jane Wong about her new book, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City.
- PEN America mourned the passing of author Martin Amis, saying he “brought his sharp literary sensibility to spirited dialogues, impassioned activism and intellectual ferment.”
Week of May 15:
- This week, PEN America filed a federal lawsuit against a school district in Florida and welcomed Salman Rushdie to his first event since he was attacked last summer to close our 2023 PEN America Literary Gala, which also honored Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels and imprisoned Iranian writer Narges Mohammadi.
- PEN America joined with Penguin Random House, authors George M. Johnson, Kyle Lukoff, David Levithan, Sarah Brannen, and Ashley Hope Pérez, and parents in Escambia County, Florida, to file a federal lawsuit against the Escambia County School District, saying its restrictions on books violated the constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law. Read more about the lawsuit here and sign your support.
Highlights From the 2023 PEN AMERICA LITERARY GALA
- At the 2023 Literary Gala, PEN America honored author Salman Rushdie, its former president, who accepted the PEN Centenary Courage Award in person, saying “Terrorism must not terrorize us. Violence must not deter us. La lutte continue. La lutta continua. The struggle goes on.”
- Colin Jost hosted the event, which also honored Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels with the with the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award, presented by John Mulaney.
- The imprisoned Iranian writer and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi received the 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. Her husband, Taghi Rahmani, a journalist who himself has been jailed for his work, accepted on her behalf and spoke about their family’s heartbreaking sacrifices during her years of activism and imprisonment.
- PEN America applauded the Supreme Court’s decisions in Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google. The two cases were heard earlier this year and center on questions about liability for internet platforms and services that handle user-generated content.
- PEN America called the Indiana legislature’s defunding of the Kinsey Institute another “alarming step” in the nationwide effort to exert political control over universities.
- PEN America and PEN International said the removal of books related to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre from Hong Kong’s public libraries “exemplifies how Hong Kong is being reshaped in Beijing’s authoritarian image.”
- PEN America called on Turkish authorities to release all individuals detained for their writing or peaceful expression and allow journalists to report freely and ensure that individuals can access the internet and use social media platforms freely, It called on candidates contesting the election to pledge to support free expression, particularly for the country’s Kurdish, LGBTQ+, and refugee communities.
- PEN America said it was saddened that Masha Gessen resigned from PEN America’s board of trustees. They served with distinction for nine years, championing our mission for free expression and values as an organization at every turn.
- PEN America said a sweeping legislative proposal in Ohio that takes aim at gender studies, critical race theory, diversity and inclusion initiatives, tenure, and faculty hiring review amounts to “the most draconian and censorious restrictions” on public colleges and universities in the country.
Week of May 8:
- PEN America kicked off its 2023 World Voices Festival, a celebration of international literature featuring more than 100 writers from 27 countries, with sold-out events in New York City’s Greenwich Village and Los Angeles. The opening night event featured festival Guest Chair Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Kushner, Akhil Sharma and Min Jin Lee taking on the question, “Why Write?” Day two featured PEN America President and festival Chair Ayad Akhtar in conversation with Eboo Patel before the keynote Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
- Read the World Voices Festival highlights.
- See the photos.
- Watch the videos.
- Ahead of a review by a United Nations human rights committee, PEN America submitted evidence that the Chinese government has failed to protect women’s rights across multiple critical areas including on education, the treatment of imprisoned women writers and scholars, and on free expression.
- This week’s PEN Ten interview was with Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, discussing poetry as an archive, her continued writing, and the art of resistance.
- PEN America denounced the imposition of a “heckler’s veto” at the Medical College of Wisconsin this month, which reportedly canceled a symposium with scholar and activist John D. Sailer, an outspoken opponent of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
- PEN America called it “nothing short of a tragedy” that a popular academic blog at the University of Iowa was shut down after criticism from lawmakers, saying the action was “profoundly alarming” and “puts democracy at risk.”
- In response to reports that Chinese police have arrested prominent Southern Mongolian author Lhamjab A. Borjigin on May 3 at his exile residence in Ulaanbaatar, PEN America said it was “deeply concerned about the increasingly aggressive measures the Chinese government has taken against writers and advocates for the Mongolian language and cultural expression.”
Week of May 1:
- PEN America hosted a series of conversations focused on World Press Freedom Day, including an advance screening in New York of the documentary 20 Days in Mariupol with a discussion afterward by the film director, Mstyslav Chernov, an AP video journalist and war correspondent; PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel—who led a writers delegation to Ukraine in 2022— AP Executive Editor Julie Pace and Sergiy Tomilenko, president of the Ukraine journalists union. The film tells the story of a team of Associated Press journalists trapped in the besieged Ukraine city during the months-long Russian assault in 2022.
- PEN America expressed gratitude to Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Rubio (R-FL), Representatives Schiff (D-CA), and Salazar (R-FL) for their leadership in introducing the bicameral, bipartisan World Press Freedom Day resolutions.
- PEN America’s Literary Translation Committee issued a new “manifesto” that declares translation is a creative art form that connects cultures across borders and languages with the unique potential to illuminate the effects of globalization and to impact injustices and power disparities worldwide.
- PEN America documented four new educational gag orders adopted in March and April, and found a troubling new trend in censorship legislation that affects higher education: a shift from bills that ban lists of so-called “divisive concepts” in classroom instruction, toward a new class of bills that specifically restrict the content of curricula, including majors, minors, and general education.
- Ahead of his Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture at the World Voices Festival, Ta-Nehisi Coates offered a positive interpretation of today’s turmoil to The Washington Post. “The history of this country shows that the backlash is most extreme when people of color and Black people have accrued the most power. Redemption happens because of reconstruction. It is the accruement of power that warrants this kind of aggressive backlash.” See his full interview with PEN America.
- Maia Kobabe and Mike Curato talked to PEN America about why they wrote the most banned books in PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans for the fall of the 2022-2023 school year.
- PEN America mourned the loss of philanthropist Laura Pels, who established with the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. “For the past 25 years, the award has recognized playwrights of all career stages including Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, David Henry Hwang, Lynn Nottage, and Larissa FastHorse,” said said Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief program officer, Literary Programming at PEN America. “These and other honorees embody the award’s spirit of, and Mrs Pels’ dedication to, artistic excellence.”
- PEN America condemned the “egregious” sentences of Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich to eight years in prison, alongside journalists Stsyapan Putsila and Yan Rudzik, sentenced in absentia to 20 and 19 years, respectively.
- PEN America said it is “deeply problematic” that the University of Arkansas Medical School withheld a $500 honoraria to a doctor who refused to agree to not boycott Israel in return for payment, saying the demand chills free speech and free thought.
- PEN Tulsa and author James Hannaham will host two free expression-centered events that celebrate Hannaham’s latest novel, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta, and address the homophobia and transphobia embedded in the recent wave of book bans in Oklahoma and across the country.
- PEN America announced it would join with Lush Cosmetics to present the Banned Book Library May 11 in Union Square Park and May 13 in Astor Place Plaza during the PEN America World Voices Festival. PEN America has been at the forefront of documenting book bans sweeping public schools across the United States.
- This week’s PEN Ten interview is with Emma Ramadan, winner of the 2021 PEN Translation Prize among other accolades, explores her translation of Panics, the only book Barbara Molinard published.
- PEN America said Bakersfield College appeared to have “blurred the lines” between protected speech and conduct that might be grounds for investigation or even termination by its decision to fire Matthew Garrett, a tenured professor who co-founded a campus free speech group.
- After a decision by Whitworth University students in Spokane, WA that blocked a speaker from an on-campus discussion, PEN America said that fear that a talk will offend some listeners cannot “be the bar by which invitations are denied on campuses.” The free expression group noted historic levels of education censorship and urged students to “resist the urge to do the same.”
- Leaked documents revealing an Iranian secret committee to target artists and other cultural and creative figures during mass demonstrations prove the “deliberate and systemic” assault on free expression, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection said.
- PEN America condemned Tunisian President Kais Saied, who gave a speech about freedom of thought to open the country’s national book fair, only to then have security agents of the state order the confiscation of a book, The Tunisian Frankenstein by author Kamel Riahi.
Week of April 24:
- PEN America’s annual Freedom to Write Index found that 311 writers and public intellectuals were locked up in prisons across the world by authoritarian governments, with China jailing the largest number, 90 writers, and Iran close behind with 57. With 39 new cases, Iran recorded the biggest increase in jailed writers and the most women over the previous year.
- PEN America denounced the decision by the Montana House to bar Rep. Zooey Zephyr from the House floor, preventing her from participating in debate, calling it a “betrayal of the democratic process” and a disturbing use of official censure in response to the exercise of free expression.
- PEN America announced that for World Press Freedom Day, on Monday May 1, PEN America will host an advance screening of the documentary 20 Days in Mariupol with a discussion afterward including film director Mstyslav Chernov, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, and AP Executive Editor Julie Pace.
- On Wednesday evening, May 3, PEN America’s Arizona chapter will mark World Press Freedom Day with a free discussion by local journalists and editors on how they choose and cover stories in order to build trust with their readers and audiences.
- Angeli Datt, PEN America’s China research and advocacy lead, called on China to release Taiwan-based publisher Li Yanhe (李延賀), also known as Fu Cha (富察), who had been detained on “endangering national security” charges while visiting family in China.
- PEN America called the arrests and convictions of two North Carolina journalists on trespassing charges for filming police as they cleared an encampment of homeless people a “dangerous precedent” that could be used to constrain press freedom as journalists do their jobs.
- Suzanne Nossel mourned the passing of Harry Belafonte, “a legend who defied time, genre and medium to activate individuals to further equality and our collective humanity.”
- PEN America expressed disappointment over another incident in which a Florida campus removed an art exhibit last month that explored the topic of prison abolition.
Week of April 17:
- PEN America’s Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools found a 28% increase book bans during the first half of the 2022-23 school year compared to the prior six months. The full impact of the book ban movement is greater than can be counted, as “wholesale bans” are restricting access to untold numbers of books in classrooms and school libraries. “People need to understand that it’s not a single book being removed in a single school district, it’s a set of ideas that are under threat just about everywhere,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education, told The New York Times.
- CEO Suzanne Nossel said that with Twitter removing legacy blue checks and other safeguards against the spread of disinformation, “a heavy onus now shifts to users” to guard against disinformation. “With Elon Musk’s Twitter having abandoned its role in trying to uphold truth and fact-based information on the platform, those who continue to use it must now assume that duty themselves.”
- PEN America said the Florida Board of Education’s expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” law to include all grade levels “sends a disturbing message” that demonstrates clearly that this bill was never intended merely to protect the youngest children.
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) called on the Iranian authorities to immediately release Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin and put an end to all threats and intimidations against activists, writers, and artists in Iran.
- NPR affiliate KOSU interviewed author Oscar Hokeah about his PEN/Hemingway Prize- winning book, Calling for a Blanket Dance, along with Donica Bettanin, literary awards program director.
- Humorist and Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri joined PEN Out Loud to celebrate the release of her satirical new book Alexandra Petri’s US History, joined in conversation by author, performer, and Emmy-award-winning screenwriter, Megan Amram.
- Poets, essayists, and musicians took the stage for a PEN Los Angeles event to celebrate the release of Ilan Stavans’s latest anthology charting the evolution and transformation of American English.
- PEN America criticized an unusual move by the interim president of New College of Florida directing the Board of Trustees to deny or defer tenure to five faculty members.
- PEN America said a Tennessee bill that would open book publishers and distributors to criminal prosecution for sending “obscene materials” to public schools is a censorious effort to “intimidate and chill” the publishing industry.
- In the latest Works of Justice podcast, Jess Abolafia and Malcolm Tariq, senior manager of editorial projects for PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program, speak with Tommy Trantino about his time organizing inside prison, how he started making art, and the production of Lock the Lock.
- Summer Lopez, PEN America’s chief program officer for free expression, said news that the U.S. Department of Justice charged 40 officers of China’s Ministry of Public Security and arrested two New York residents related to the repression of Chinese dissidents in the United States exposed “the lengths to which the Chinese government is going to surveil, silence and deceive residents of the United States, and how deeply they have reached into American communities to work the will of the Chinese Communist Party.”
- PEN America strongly condemned first-of-its kind legislation banning the use of TikTok, which the Montana legislature passed on Friday, saying the bill “creates a significant risk of continued government incursion into online freedom and free expression.”
Week of April 10:
- PEN America launched an online archive of independent Russian news outlets that were discontinued by Vladimir Putin – to preserve news stories and investigations from the last two decades and make the content accessible to researchers, journalists, and scholars worldwide.
Digital Archive Aims to Preserve a Threatened Russian Independent Media
— PEN America (@PENamerica) April 11, 2023
Dru Menaker also told Wall Street Journal: “It is impossible not to think how important it is to have free media, to have independent journalists at work everywhere in the world.”
- PEN America stands in solidarity with North Atlantic Books in condemning the egregious online abuse directed at Dalit author Thenmozhi Soundararajan, in retaliation for her writing and advocacy against caste-based discrimination, regarding threats against her colleagues and allies.
— Dr. Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) April 12, 2023
- PEN America stands in solidarity with North Atlantic Books in condemning the egregious online abuse directed at Dalit author Thenmozhi Soundararajan, in retaliation for her writing and advocacy against caste-based discrimination, regarding threats against her colleagues and allies.
- PEN America calls on Twitter to remove “State Affiliated Media” designation from NPR’s Twitter Account. Liz Woolery, PEN America’s digital policy leader, said “Musk’s approach to managing Twitter has come at the expense of information integrity and user trust, and it has only made it harder for users to sift through the maelstrom of online content to find what is credible.”
- As part of PEN Write Now, our PEN Piedmont chapter hosted a Prompt Party, an engaging, interactive workshop where participants grouped off to create short performances based on a shared prompt.
- PEN America strongly opposes closing the Llano County Library System, a move that would deny access to thousands of books and diminish the freedom to read for Llano County’s 21,000 residents.”
- In a TIME magazine interview this week Salman Rushdie, a former PEN America president, said, “I’ve done my share of fighting for free expression. For example, I’m very proud of my association with PEN America and the work we’ve done together. One of my things of greatest pride is to have co-founded the PEN World Voices Festival, which in its origin really was a way of introducing American readers to the rest of the world, to make the literary experience of Americans less parochial, perhaps. And it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”
- PEN America condemned the 14-year sentence handed down to Freedom to Write honoree Xu Zhiyong, a writer and activist, as an “outrageous” assault on free expression in China.
- PEN America Trustee Min Jin Lee writes about TIME100 designee, librarian Tracie D. Hall: “Hall has labored to protect the democratic ideals of freedom of thought, assembly, press, public education, dissent, speech, and above all the freedom to imagine a liberated world through the word.”
- Six students — three in high school and three in college — won a total of $7,500 in the PEN America Free Expression Essay Competition for their writing addressing a wide range of topics like educational freedoms, civil discourse, the history of free speech, and personal experiences with censorship. Judges included writers Frederick Joseph, Kyle Lukoff, Jia Tolentino, and PEN America Trustee Tara Westover.
- We launched Champions of Higher Education, where 118 former college and university presidents and system heads from 36 states, representing all regions of the country, have committed to advocating against educational gag orders and other political and legislative threats to free expression and institutional autonomy in higher education.
— Jeremy C. Young (@jeremycyoung) April 14, 2023
- In North Carolina, Nadine Farid Johnson moderated a panel discussion organized by PEN on “Censorship in Medical Education & the Humanities,” where experts discussed recent legislative attacks on education, abortion, and free speech.
Week of April 3:
- PEN America announced the lineup for the 2023 World Voices Festival, led by festival chair Ayad Akhtar and guest chairs Marlon James and Ottessa Moshfegh. Ta-Nehisi Coates will deliver the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture. Speakers include John Irving, Roxane Gay, Reza Aslan, Min Jin Lee, Sarah Polley, Amor Towles, Padma Lakshmi, Masha Gessen, Jelani Cobb, Ben Okri, Han Kang, Imani Perry and so many more. The festival takes place on May 10-13 in downtown Manhattan, with concurrent events in Los Angeles and selected virtual events. Get a full festival pass or event tickets now!
- PEN America condemned the Tennessee legislature’s move to expel members who joined a protest at the state Capitol last week over a school shooting as “far too grave,” with Kate Ruane saying the right to protest is paramount.
- Does posthumous editing go too far? Suzanne Nossel was quoted in a New York Times article about revisions to works by Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming and more.
- Jeremy C. Young gave a keynote address at New College of Florida about laws that would restrict academic freedom on campus. “If these laws make it so that only one set of viewpoints can be taught, only one set of viewpoints can be expressed in higher education, then students will graduate not knowing about the world around them and they will be unprepared to serve as citizens in our democratic society,” Young said.
- PEN America called an incident at San Francisco State University involving counter protesters at a speaking event by activist and athlete Riley Gaines a “disaster” that “makes a mockery of the principles of free speech that allow higher education to function.”
- PEN America called revisions to India’s textbooks that struck key details from their accounts of India’s past “alarming.”
- PEN America Los Angeles hosted an event with poet, author, and literary organizer Mahogany L. Browne in conversation with award-winning poet Alyesha Wise for a reading, conversation, and Q&A celebrating Browne’s exquisite new collection Chrome Valley.
- PEN America and Brooklyn Public Library held an online town hall for high school students to connect and share successful advocacy solutions in the fight against book bans and educational censorship around the country.
- The 2023 Guggenheim Fellows include PEN Trustee James Hannaham and friends of PEN David Greenberg, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Jacqueline Woodson, Héctor Tobar and Kristina Wong.
- PEN America called on Twitter to remove the “state-affiliated media” designation from NPR’s Twitter account. “It’s a gift to disinformation purveyors and to authoritarian regimes the world over. Twitter should reverse course and remove this designation from NPR immediately,” said Liz Woolery, PEN America’s digital policy lead.
- PEN America joined the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) and PEN International in calling for an investigation of reports of cruel and inhumane treatment of imprisoned writer and ICPC member Lü Gengsong (吕耿松), who has been serving an 11-year prison sentence on trumped-up charges of “subversion of state power” since 2016.
PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing program produced heartfelt, inspirational, and incredible events in Minneapolis and Miami as a part of our regional Break Out series. See the photos.
- This week’s PEN Ten interview featured Rachel Heng, whose The Great Reclamation traces the birth of modern Singapore, and Rushi Vyas, whose first poetry collection is When I Reach For Your Pulse.
Week of March 27:
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel testified about the state of free speech on college campuses before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, saying “This escalating battle for control over free expression in education should worry us all.”
🧵“This escalating battle for control over free expression in education should worry us all,” said PEN America CEO @SuzanneNossel in remarks before the House Committee on Education & the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Higher Education & Workforce Development. https://t.co/d8YMM8jrEb
— PEN America (@PENamerica) March 29, 2023
- PEN America with the Committee to Project Journalists and other organizations expressed deep concern to the Russian Federation regarding the detention of American journalist Evan Gershkovich and the unfounded espionage charges leveled against him.
- After former President Donald Trump was indicted, PEN America shared a tip sheet for journalists about fighting disinformation and misinformation.
- Nossel spoke with Jonathan Alter about the state of book bans in America.
- A song by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus, Michelangelo’s David and a movie about Ruby Bridges‘ life have all come under attack in recent weeks. Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, wrote about 10 surprising things banned in U.S. schools.
- For International Transgender Day of Visibility, Freedom to Read consultant Sabrina Baêta shared a reading list of commonly banned transgender stories.
- PEN America called the suspension of Wayne State University Professor Steven Shaviro and the college’s reporting of him to police for a social media post a “blatant overreaction.”
- This week’s PEN Ten interviews featured Gina Chung, author of Sea Change and a former PEN America communications manager, and Sunu Chandy, author of the debut poetry collection My Dear Comrades.
- We mourned the loss of John Woods, a masterly translator who won two translation awards from PEN America.
Week of March 20:
- Nadine Farid Johnson testified before a congressional subcommittee about free speech, saying “we are in the midst of the broadest attack on First Amendment rights in schools and universities this country has seen in generations.”
"Today, we are in the midst of the broadest attack on First Amendment rights in schools and universities this country has seen in generations,'" PEN America's Nadine Farid Johnson tells @JudiciaryGOP Subcommittee on Constitution and Limited Government. #FreeSpeech pic.twitter.com/jDGuS9M63e
— PEN America (@PENamerica) March 23, 2023
- CEO Suzanne Nossel and Ted Mitchell, CEO of the American Council on Education, wrote about a new resource guide for higher education leaders defending academic freedom and responding to educational gag orders.
- PEN America and partner organizations sent a letter to Congress expressing concern about legislation that would ban TikTok.
- PEN America and its partners hosted Let Florida Read, a read-in in Tallahassee, Florida.
PEN America and PEN International condemned the seven-year prison sentence handed down to Chinese blogger Ruan Xiaohuan (阮晓寰) and called for his immediate release.
- PEN America and Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network call on Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to veto a bill that criminalizes the production and dissemination of expression relating to LGBTQI+ issues under the guise of “promoting homosexuality.”
- PEN America called the unilateral cancellation of a campus drag benefit show in Texas an “abhorrent trampling on students’ free expression rights.”
- PEN America held author’s evenings with Paul Goldberger, author of Why Architecture Matters, and Stacy Schiff, author of The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams.
Week of March 13:
- Julie Trébault, director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection project, spoke at the United Nations after ARC, PEN America and PEN International issued a joint statement with 183 other organizations on the cultural rights of migrant artists.
Today, @pen_int, @PENamerica, ARC, and 183 other organizations and individuals issued a joint statement at #HRC52 on the cultural rights of migrant artists and in support of @AXanthaki's latest report. Read it here: https://t.co/45MUrwQQxG pic.twitter.com/LgxHsFsq2C
— ARC (Artists at Risk Connection) (@AtRiskArtists) March 15, 2023
- Jodi Picoult, whose books were banned in Martin County, wrote for the Daily Beast about what Florida doesn’t want you to know about its book bans. James Patterson spoke about the county banning his Maximum Ride books.
- Jonathan Friedman, director of Free Expression and Education Programs, said revisions of history textbooks in Florida to remove references to race were an example of “how fear is destroying public education in Florida.”
- Kate Ruane, Sy Sims director of U.S. Free Expression Programs, criticized Florida’s decision to revoke Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after hosting a drag show. Ruane said the move “will harm a business simply because it supported speech the government doesn’t like.”
- Kwaneta Harris, incarcerated in solitary confinement in Texas, wrote for PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing’s Works of Justice about how prison book bans also restrict access to healthcare.
- In his weekly book column for The Washington Post, Ron Charles focused on PEN America’s Ukraine report on cultural erasure in covering a conference in Swedan on libraries in times of war.
- Friedman told The New York Times that although University of Pennsylvania professor Amy Wax has made odious public comments, the idea that off-campus comments can lead to an investigation “is concerning.”
- PEN America and PEN International called on Hong Kong authorities to drop the sedition charges against booksellers Alan Keung Ka-wai (姜嘉偉), Cannis Chan Sheung-yan (陳尚恩), and Alex Lee Lung-yin (李龍現).
- In response to a protest at Stanford, Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager in free expression and education, said invited speakers “deserve the ability to speak and be heard.”
- A package of three proposed Texas bills, introduced as part of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority agenda for the 2023 legislative session, would create “a pervasive climate of fear and self-censorship” on college campuses, said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education.
- PEN/Hemingway Prize winner Oscar Hokeah spoke to PEN America about the prize and his debut novel, Calling for a Blanket Dance.
- This week’s PEN Ten was with poet Monica Youn, who explores Asian American identity existing in the space between a homeland and a country of residence/citizenship.
Week of March 6:
- PEN America issued an open letter to officials in Martin County, Florida, after it was reported that the district pulled dozens of books from shelves, including 20 by Jodi Picoult and James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series.
- CEO Suzanne Nossel denied Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ claim that book bans in his state are a “hoax,” and emphasized that children have the right to read.
- Here are the real facts about Florida’s book bans.
- Nossel wrote for the Guardian about the drag show bans sweeping the country, a chilling attack on free speech.
- Kate Ruane wrote for USA Today about how Ron DeSantis is targeting the media and journalists with new legislation.
- Did you catch Molly Ringwald at the Literary Awards? We focused on her new career as a translator.
- We spoke with Erika Dickerson-Despenza about what it meant to win a career achievement award.
- Author Morgan Talty explained why he missed the awards — he was catching up on sleep after the birth of his baby.
- This week’s PEN Ten was an interview with Monica Youn about fourth poetry collection, From From.
- PEN Belarus, PEN Armenia, PEN Moscow, and PEN America condemned the Minsk City Court’s decision to convict and sentence Belarusian writer Ales Bialiacki to 10 years in a medium security penal colony, and called for his immediate, unconditional release.
- Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America, called Lewis-Clark State College’s decision to pull artworks about abortion from an exhibit “a slap in the face to academic and artistic freedom.”
- PEN America sharply criticized the KGB of Belarus’ decision published on March 7 to designate the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) as an “extremist organization.”
- On International Women’s Day, PEN America, PEN International, and 23 other groups called on the Chinese government to release and drop all charges against editor Cao Zhixin (曹芷馨), writer Li Siqi (李思琪), accountant Li Yuanjing (李元婧), and teacher Zhai Dengrui (翟登蕊).
- PEN America called on Egyptians authorities to immediately release Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy, who has been held unlawfully since 2018 for exercising his freedom of expression.
Week of February 27:
- The 59th annual PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony was an unmissable celebration of this year’s most resonant literature, hosted by Kal Penn with career achievement awards to Tina Fey, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, and Vinod Kumar Shukla. This year, PEN America presented 11 book awards totaling more than $350,000 in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, and translation.
- This year’s winners were Percival Everett, Dr.No, for the PEN/Jean Stein Award; Hafizah Augustus Geter, The Black Period, for thePEN Open Book Award; Morgan Talty, Night of the Living Rez, for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection; Oscar Hokeah, Calling for a Blanket Dance for the PEN/Hemingway Award For Debut Novel; Robin Coste Lewis, To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness for the PEN/Voelcker Award For Poetry Collection; Daniel Borzutzky, for the translation of Paula Ilabaca Nuñez’s The Loose Pearl, for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation; Tiffany Tsao, for the translation of Budi Darma’s People from Bloomington, for thePEN Translation Prize; Judith Thurman, A Left Handed Woman, for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay; Florence Williams, Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award; Dan Charnas, Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm, for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award For Biography; and Eve Fairbanks, The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning, for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction.
- Get to know this year’s winners and learn more about our distinguished panel of literary judges, read event highlights, and scroll through red carpet photos.
- Twelve debut writers chosen for originality, craft and subject urgency were announced as winners of the $2000 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Their exceptional short stories will be published by Catapult Books in the annual anthology Best Debut Short Stories: The PEN America Dau Prize.
- Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education, wrote for The Hill about the Comstock law 150 years later, a relevant cautionary tale for today.
- Jeremy Young appeared on the Mehdi Hasan show on MSNBC to discuss educational censorship in Florida, saying bills proposed there are reminiscent of authoritarian regimes.
- Karin Karlekar, appeared on Iran International TV to condemn the suppression and arrest of writers and members of the writers’ association.
کارین کارلیکر، مدیر بخش آزادی بیان انجمنهای قلم: «انجمن جهانی قلم و ۳۵ انجمن قلم در سراسر جهان در بیانیهای سرکوب و بازداشت نویسندگان و اعضای کانون نویسندگان را محکوم کرد. ما خواهان آزادی همه کسانی هستیم که به دلیل اعتراض، نوشتن، ترجمه کتاب یا مبارزه با سانسور بازداشت شدند.» pic.twitter.com/byIQ1Ptho9
— ايران اينترنشنال (@IranIntl) March 1, 2023
Week of February 20:
- The Literary Action Coalition came together to hold a Literary Activism Summit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. Alejandro Heredia, the community outreach manager for PEN America, interviewed keynote speaker Iris Morales, a longtime activist, educator, and author whose work focuses on social justice. Kasey Meehan led a panel on the freedom to read.
- After a strong response to CEO Suzanne Nossel‘s criticism of changes to the work of Roald Dahl, his U.K. publisher said it would continue to produce classic versions of the work. Nossel called the changes “absurd censorship” in an interview with NPR.
- Margaret Atwood, Meryl Streep, Ron Chernow and many other writers, artists and human rights defenders signed on to an open letter that they #StandWithUkraine.
- Nossel wrote for CNN about how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is destroying free speech while claiming to protect it.
- Author Derrick Barnes spoke to PEN America about what it means to have author visits canceled due to a parent’s complaint.
- Author De’Shawn Charles Winslow was featured in a PEN Ten interview about his new novel, Decent People.
- PEN America said the investigation of a Florida university professor’s teaching material is “a textbook example of how not to handle a spurious complaint.”
- PEN America’s report about the cultural erasure of Ukraine was cited in several pieces about the anniversary of the war, including by ABC News.
- PEN America said a sweeping Florida legislative proposal taking aim at gender studies, critical race theory, diversity and inclusion initiatives, tenure, and faculty hiring review amounts to “the most draconian and censorious restrictions” on public colleges and universities in the country.
- A new proposed law in Florida would pose a “grave threat to journalism and free speech” through radical changes to long-established defamation law, PEN America said, condemning the bill as “blatantly unconstitutional.”
- PEN America and the American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, released a new resource guide that gives college and university leaders the tools and resources they need to defend campus free expression from legislative attack.
- In response to reports that Algerian authorities have arrested researcher Raouf Farrah as part of the government’s broad and escalating crackdown on civil society and free expression in the country, Justin Shilad, research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa, said the arrest “puts freedom of expression and association in Algeria in a perilous state.”
- The investigation of a Florida university professor’s teaching material is “a textbook example of how not to handle a spurious complaint,” PEN America said, following reports that administrators were retaliating against the professor for teaching about race.
- PEN America’s Program Director, Eurasia and Advocacy, Polina Sadovskaya, decried news that another Russian writer and journalist, Filipp Dzyadko, was denied entry to Georgia.
Week of February 13:
- CEO Suzanne Nossel criticized changes made to the work of Roald Dahl. “Those who might cheer specific edits to Dahl’s work should consider how the power to rewrite books might be used in the hands of those who do not share their values and sensibilities,” she said. Nossel’s views were reported by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, CNN, Good Morning America and many others.
At @PENamerica we are alarmed at news of "hundreds of changes" to venerated works by @roald_dahl in a purported effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone. 1/13 https://t.co/IXOkIaXYmt
— Suzanne Nossel (@SuzanneNossel) February 18, 2023
- PEN America announced that Tina Fey, one of the greatest comedy writers of her generation, will receive the 2023 PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award at the 59th annual PEN America Literary Awards. Rachel Dratch will present the honor live at the ceremony, March 2 at The Town Hall.
- PEN America announced the finalists for more than $350,000 in prizes, 54 authors in 11 categories. See the full list here.
- Writer, scholar, and 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award co-honoree Reza Khandan Mahabadi was released from prison in Iran. “As we celebrate his release, we reiterate our call for all those unjustly jailed in Iran for their free expression to be released unconditionally,” said PEN America’s Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs.
- PEN America denounced the Nicaraguan authorities for apparently forcing 222 political prisoners – including multiple artists, writers, and journalists – to renounce their citizenship under duress and deporting them without their consent, and for subsequently stripping citizenship from an additional 94 Nicaraguan dissidents in exile, including poet and former president of PEN Nicaragua Gioconda Belli.
- Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of PEN America Washington and free expression programs, said new legislation that would jail publishers for distributing “sexually explicit materials” to schools “appears to be the latest salvo in a cross-country effort to strip away access to information in public education at every level through vague, ill-defined terminology.”
- PEN America released a list of the most banned picture books of the 2021-2022 school year. The three most banned titles are all nonfiction dealing with LGBTQ+ issues.
- It only takes one person to deny books to hundreds of books, Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education, wrote for the Miami Herald with Stephana Ferrell,co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project.
- PEN America condemned the reported dismissal of Brian Covey, a substitute teacher who posted a video showing empty bookshelves in a Duval County, Florida middle school.
- PEN America said objections made over pieces of art in an exhibit at the State College of Florida—that led organizers to cancel it— were “clearly political in nature” and cannot be separated from other censorship that is happening in the state.
- PEN America and PEN International condemned the temporary detention of at least six artists and activists in Cuba, including Yordanka Battle Moré, Adelth Bonne Gamboa, Rosmery Almeda (known as Alma Poet), Yamilka Lafita (known as Lara Crofs), Yulier Rodríguez, and Arián Cruz (known as Tata Poet).
- PEN America condemned a prison summons sent to Iranian Reza Khandan–the husband of prominent human rights lawyer, writer, and PEN America 2011 Freedom to Write honoree Nasrin Sotoudeh.
- PEN America called on Algerian authorities to immediately release journalist Mustapha Bendjema from detention and to stop their pursuit of human rights activists and journalists for their work.
Week of February 6:
- This week, we announced that actor and author Kal Penn will host the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards on March 2 for what’s sure to be an unforgettable night at New York’s Town Hall. Tickets start at $15.
- PEN America celebrated the launch of Salman Rushdie’s Victory City with an online event featuring Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.
- CEO Suzanne Nossel spoke to Gillian Tett of the Financial Times about book bans in the United States, saying that while PEN America used to focus primarily on places like China and Russia, “we find ourselves devoting more and more energy to defending free speech in America too.”
- Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief officer of Literary Programming, spoke to BIN: The Black Information Network about PEN America’s report, Reading Between the Lines: Race, Equity, and Book Publishing.
- Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of PEN America Washington and free expression programs, spoke to the American Council on Education about the status of educational gag orders in the U.S.
- José Olivarez joined PEN Out Loud to celebrate the release of his revolutionary poetry collection, Promises of Gold.
- Kate Ruane, U.S. Free Expression Programs director, said the North Carolina bill HB 40 would harm the right to protest, noting that protesters could have their voting rights stripped, if convicted. “HB 40 will harm core First Amendment rights and will create the risk that the government could use the law to restrict or deter speech it dislikes,” she said.
- Rahsaan Thomas, a prison journalist and winner of the 2022 PEN America Prison Writing contest, was released from San Quentin prison, a year after his sentence was commuted. Thomas recently wrote about the special challenges of prison for people who are deaf as part of the PEN America and Vera Institute “Human Toll of Jail” project.
- Former PEN America President Francine Prose wrote about educational censorship under Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida.
- Past President Andrew Solomon was featured on NPR talking about depression and family dynamics.
- Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education, spoke to Inside Higher Ed about Texas Gov. Abbott taking aim at diversity, equity and inclusion in universities, saying “decisions about DEI initiatives on campus, should be made by university stakeholders via a process of shared governance, not by politicians.”
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.
- 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.
We congratulate Nasrin Sotoudeh, our 2011 #FreedomToWrite honoree, on receiving a @StateDRL Global Human Rights Defender Award today. Nasrin's friend Ladan Boroumand received the award on her behalf, with writer and filmmaker Amir Soltani, and PEN America's Nadine Farid Johnson. pic.twitter.com/SnUBB3WDdS
— PEN America (@PENamerica) February 2, 2023
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.
- 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.
PEN America mourns the loss of Victor Navasky—a stalwart defender of the freedom to write—who led @thenation for many years, wrote “Naming Names,” a breakthrough chronicle of the Hollywood blacklisting era, and was a longtime PEN America board member. https://t.co/UdBVFOK7XP #RIP
— PEN America (@PENamerica) January 24, 2023
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 Chan, Percival Everett, Jorie Graham, Ada Limón, Imani Perry, David Sedaris, Solmaz Sharif, Morgan Talty, Ed 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:
- PEN America and PEN Sydney joined more than 170 writers and scholars–including Azar Nafisi, Shahriar Madanipour, Hisham Matar, Orhan Pamuk, Moniroo Ravanipour, Peter Sloterdjik, Bela Tarr, and Jia Zhangke–calling for the release of poet Ali Asadollahi and other unjustly detained writers in Iran.
- PEN America announced it would stream a launch event for Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Victory City, featuring Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman. The event is free to the public.
- PEN America joined other free expression groups to condemn the cancellation of Paula Vogel‘s play Indecent at a high school in Florida. We spoke with Vogel about censorship and how it affects LGBTQ+ students in particular.
- PEN America and the Brooklyn Public Library are teaming up to co-host the first-ever Freedom to Read Advocacy Institute for the spring 2023 semester. The free, four-week online training program will prepare high school students to combat book banning across the country.
- Director of Free Expression and Education Programs Jonathan Friedman spoke to ABC about how conservative and liberal efforts to ban books differ, and how book bans especially impact the LGBQ+ community.
- Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, spoke to The Associated Press about the conservative attack on tenure for university professors.
- PEN America was among more than 100 global rights groups to call for the immediate release of Mongolian writer and activist Munkhbayar Chuluundorj, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges related to his criticism of the Mongolian government’s close ties with China.
- PEN America paid tribute to author and active member Russell Banks, who died at age 82, and remembered Joyce Meskis, the PEN America award-winning owner of the Tattered Cover bookshop in Denver, who died at 80.
- 2021 PEN America Emerging Voices fellow KB Brookins was awarded an NEA 2023 Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry. Their debut full-length collection, Freedom House, will be published in April.
WEEK OF JANUARY 2:
- PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel wrote for Time magazine that Ukrainians are defending their history through art and culture.
- Dave Eggers, part of the PEN America delegation to Ukraine, wrote for the New Yorker about the profound defiance of daily life in Ukraine.
- PEN America Director of Free Expression and Education Programs Jonathan Friedman sounded the alarm about five book ban trends to watch in 2023 — including its spread from schools to public libraries.
- Nadine Farid Johnson, PEN America’s managing director for Washington, D.C., wrote for Al Jazeera about how American book banning is inspiring censorship overseas.
- Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, responded to reporting that the Florida governor’s office asked public colleges and universities to report spending on diversity, equity, and inclusion and critical race theory. “The governor’s request looks more like a witch hunt than a serious effort to examine public expenditures,” Young said.
- New Lines magazine featured the PEN America book “The Sentences That Create Us,” and spoke to Caits Meissner and Robert Pollock of PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program in an article about how prison book bans undermine rehabilitation.
- PEN America expressed dismay over the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s decision to deny a planned fellowship for Ken Roth, reportedly due to Roth’s criticisms of Israel’s human rights record, a move that raises serious questions about the credibility of the Harvard program itself.
- PEN America Translation Committee lead and Trustee Allison Markin Powell translated for The New York Times Japanese novelist Hiromi Kawakami’s suggested reading for those coming to her hometown, Tokyo.
- Kate Ruane is joining PEN America as the inaugural Sy Syms director for U.S. free expression programs. She was most recently the lead U.S. public policy specialist at Wikimedia and is an ACLU alum.
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.
WEEK OF DECEMBER 25:
- Author and journalist Barbara Demick, part of the PEN America delegation to Ukraine, wrote about the Ukrainians reclaiming their language to fight back against Russia.
- Juliette Verlaque, program assistant for the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America, wrote in the Daily Beast about how the Iranian regime has put musicians, artists, and actors in the crosshairs.
- PEN America condemned the “egregious violation” of academic freedom at Hamline University, which refused to renew the contract of an art history professor, apparently because that professor showed an online class images of medieval and Renaissance art depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
WEEK OF DECEMBER 19:
- PEN America hailed the passage of the ‘BURMA Act’ signed Dec. 23 by President Joe Biden, a measure that signals the United States’ intent to hold the Myanmar military accountable for human rights violations and support the struggle for democracy. PEN America gained support in Congress for the bill together with writers, artists, and human rights defenders, culminating in a Myanmar delegation from the creative community that traveled to Washington last summer.
- PEN America was praised in Publishers Weekly’s People of the Year: The Defenders. “PEN America is another organization playing a vital role, engaging lawmakers, hosting programs, organizing open letters, gathering a wealth of data and issuing key reports. In May, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel testified eloquently before the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on the issue of censorship and book banning in schools and libraries.
- Suzanne Nossel appeared with Ali Velshi on MSNBC to explain the rise in book bans that has turned schools into battlegrounds.
- 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:
- At a PEN America Town Hall, CEO Suzanne Nossel moderated a panel with writer, editor, and publisher Roxane Gay, author Min Jin Lee, writer and editor Chris Beha and publishing veteran Erroll McDonald to discuss the question, “Do publishers have a moral obligation to diversify American literature?” The discussion followed the PEN America report Reading Between the Lines: Race, Equity, and Book Publishing.
- Summer Lopez, chief program officer for Free Expression programs, called on Elon Musk to reverse the suspension of several journalists. “Musk can talk about standing for free speech all he wants, but this should make it clear to everyone that what he’s doing is quite the opposite.”
- PEN America’s work against censorship was cited as part of Publishers Weekly’s 2022 People of the Year: The Defenders. The publication cited CEO Suzanne Nossel’s testimony before the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
- Nadine Farid Johnson, Managing Director of PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs, participated in a panel discussion organized by Democracy Forward on educational censorship in K-12 schools and its perils for participatory democracy. The discussion, which took place on Capitol Hill, featured keynote remarks from Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin.
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), Labo Ciudadano, and Amnesty International launched a new report documenting the troubling rise in restrictions on artistic freedom in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report, titled “Art in Turmoil: Artistic Freedom and Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean,” says censorship and repression have been exacerbated by a surge in authoritarianism, invasive regulations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and violent crackdowns on large-scale social demonstrations.
- PEN America launched the Mwongo wa Mafunzo ya Unyanyasaji Mtandaoni, a Swahili-language manual to support Swahili-speaking journalists, writers, and human rights activists who are facing an unprecedented wave of online abuse.
- PEN America condemned the sentencing of Chinese poet and activist Wang Yuwen (Wang Zang) to four years in prison and his wife, Wang Liqin, to two and a half years in prison, and called upon the Chinese government to release them. The organization said the sentences demonstrate the “repressive environment for free expression in China.”
- Author Ashley Hope Pérez cited PEN America’s Banned in the USA report in an interview with NPR.
- The New York Times also cited PEN America’s Banned in the USA report in an article about conservative groups fueling the rise of book bans. PEN America counted at least 50 groups pushing for such bans.
- After stepping down from Penguin Random House, PEN America Executive Vice President Markus Dohle said he would increase his involvement with PEN because he believes so deeply in its mission.
- PEN America raised concern that a section of the Judicial Security and Privacy Act—passed by Congress and headed for President Biden’s desk—would enshroud the federal judiciary “with a cloak of inscrutiblity” that would prevent fair investigations of judges.
WEEK OF December 5:
- 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 Johnson, Washington 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 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:
- PEN America circulated an open letter protesting book bans in Missouri, with signatures from banned authors and illustrators including Art Spiegelman, Roxane Gay, and Margaret Atwood. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was among the outlets reporting on the letter.
- Hate in the Headlines: Journalism and the Challenges of Extremism is PEN America’s new report based on interviews with 75 journalists, academics and other experts. It provides an in-depth examination of how journalism has fared in reporting on the “mainstreaming” of extremism in the United States.
- PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel was featured as one of Insider’s 100 People Transforming Business for her work in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “I think it is important that diversity, equity, and inclusion be introduced and advanced in ways that include every employee, no matter their background, allowing everyone to have a voice,” Nossel said.
- Nossel also spoke about Twitter’s free speech dilemma with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer following her op-ed in the LA Times, “How Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter could threaten free speech.”
- A federal judge temporarily blocked the higher education portions of Florida’s HB 7, the most restrictive educational gag order in the country. PEN America’s report, America’s Censored Classrooms, was cited in the case, and our reasoning was incorporated in the judge’s order.
- Director of Free Expression and Education Programs Jonathan Friedman spoke about the Missouri bans at a joint press conference with the nonprofit Campaign for Our Shared Future. PEN America counted roughly 300 books pulled from shelves, as The Hill reported. The Jewish Telegraphic agency highlighted the Holocaust books swept up in the ban.
- PEN America called a Texas law that would create a state-mandated rating system for books in school libraries “a dangerous escalation in the movement to censor public education.” The Dallas Morning News wrote about PEN America’s warning of a potential chilling effect.
- 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.
- In response to harsh sentences imposed Nov. 7 on Nigerian comedians Mubarak Muhammad and Nazifi Muhammad, including public floggings, fines, and hard labor, for publishing satirical skits on TikTok, PEN America and the Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network condemned the violence and demanded that the sentences be vacated.
- Young called a dean’s threat to punish a professor at Georgia’s Valdosta State University in response to a parent’s complaint about a biology lecture “outrageous” and an infringement on academic freedom.
- 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, speaks with Celes Tisdale about the recent reissue of his anthology, When the Smoke Cleared: Attica Prison Poems and Journal.
- PEN America U.S. Free Expression Programs Coordinator Hannah Waltz spoke for an article about How Criminalizing Protests Stifles Climate Justice.