PEN America on #MeToo
As an organization of writers, editors, agents, translators, publishers, and devotees of literature dedicated to the celebration and defense of free expression, we are deeply concerned about revelations of pervasive sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate conduct within our community.
PEN America is committed to protecting unfettered discourse in all forms, and we insist gender, race, ethnicity, religion, LGBT status, and physical disability not stand in the way of expressive freedom. We believe stories of abuse must not be suppressed by intimidation, enforced nondisclosure, or the stonewalling of journalists. In keeping with our active defense of writers around the world, many of whom are falsely accused of treason, defamation, and other crimes by those aiming to silence their voices, we advocate for rigorous standards of fairness grounded in human rights and the rule of law. Finally, as champions of the rights to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas, we speak out categorically against efforts to suppress or withdraw creative works from circulation.
We applaud and affirm those who have come forward with honest and often painful accounts of behavior by members of the literary community that has flouted standards of respectful, dignified, and professional conduct—in some cases constituting harassment or assault. These stories have helped prompt an essential reckoning that we hope can yield concrete new norms of behavior and improved ways to deal with violations.
There can be no tolerance for workplace conduct that harasses, threatens, undermines, or debases others. Throughout the literary community, human resources and legal departments and organizational leadership should mobilize to prevent and punish conduct that violates protections against such behavior.
Literary culture extends well beyond the workplace into more informal gatherings—conferences, social occasions, and festivals—which offer opportunities for professional engagement and advancement. Event organizers and sponsors should voice their expectations of professional behavior in these settings. Participants should be alert to power imbalances and determined to avoid behavior that may, even if unintentionally, be unwelcome or undermining to members of the community.
Given our commitment to defending individual rights, we believe it is imperative to listen to and support those affected by assault, harassment, and other forms of misconduct, and to ensure that allegations are credibly examined so that victims have genuine recourse. At the same time, those accused must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to allegations against them before charges become the basis for serious sanction.
We urge publishers and other literary institutions to undertake independent investigations of all allegations against individuals associated with or sponsored by them, regardless of whether formal employment arrangements pertain. Responsible inquiry, followed by appropriate action, is essential to safeguarding confidence that those who come forward will be heard and supported, as well as to resisting demands for a rush to judgment.
Finally, as an organization devoted to protecting the free flow of ideas, we have serious concerns about moves to withdraw creative works from circulation or limit their availability. Decisions about which literary voices should be heard and which deserve to be celebrated are unavoidably subjective and specific. They should be made by diverse, informed arbiters applying their best judgment. Individual outlets and readers should be free to choose what works to buy and read. We hope that the literary community will emerge from this reckoning with a strengthened commitment to maximizing the range of voices to be heard and appreciated.
PEN America’s mission encourages discourse as a means to bridge divisions that hinder mutual understanding on contentious issues. In this spirit, we hope to help foster a collective response to these disclosures with the goal of engendering a more conscientious, inclusive, equal, and just literary community.
#MeToo: A Writers Reckoning Panel Discussion
At the 2018 PEN America Annual General Meeting, #MeToo: A Writers’ Reckoning convened some of our most bracing voices with varied views for a frank conversation about the implications, contradictions, and future of the #MeToo movement, power relations in the creative spheres, the duties of individuals and institutions, and how the writing community can rise to the occasion.