PEN America Racial Equity Statement
PEN America turns 100 this year. In our century-long fight for free expression, we’ve stood in
solidarity with writers and communities across the country, and across the globe, to address the
barriers writers, journalists, and their supporters face every day.
As we take stock of our last hundred years and propel ourselves into the next century, we
continue to think critically about how the fight for racial justice intersects with our defense of
freedom of expression.
The lasting influences of white supremacist ideologies and racism continue to shape even the
most well-intended and venerated American institutions. PEN America has not been immune
from those influences. As an organization comprised primarily of white authors and supporters,
PEN America has, through its history, embodied and reflected historical inequities that limited
opportunities for a full range of voices to be read and heard. It is also the case that, in our long
history, PEN America evolved to encompass participation from previously excluded groups. The
organization has absorbed vital lessons throughout its evolution from a New York based,
writer-led group to a literary and human rights organization that seeks to champion the freedom
to write for all.
As we move into the next 100 years, we do so with an emphasis on equity, as reflected in
representation within our ranks and in determined efforts to foster voice and expression for all.
What We’re Doing Currently and Going Forward:
Over the past few years, we have been making significant strides internally and externally to
incorporate racial equity practices and policies in our work. As part of our increased investment
in aligning with our values, each of our programmatic and functional departments created and
committed to a list of racial equity goals in 2021 which continue to inform practices into the
future. Below are just a few examples of these efforts, which are being made in all areas of the
- PEN America’s Free Expression Programs team conducted a review of its partnerships
with racial justice and civil rights groups to ensure equitable and ethical divisions of labor
and mutual benefit.
- Our Literary Programs and Free Expression teams have collaborated to research, write
and release Reading Between the Lines: Race, Equity, and Book Publishing an original
report that offers important and original insight into the forces standing in the way of
greater diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry.
- Our Literary Programs team has worked to ensure a diverse and encompassing line-up of
speakers and featured presenters at the PEN World Voices Festival and in year-round
public programs and of judges for the PEN America Literary Awards.
- Our Membership team has focused on data collection to create a baseline for racial
representation and on recruitment efforts to improve membership diversity.
- Our Prison and Justice Writing Team committed to diversifying our mentorship and
awards programs for incarcerated writers by broadening its selection committee,
recruiting more formerly incarcerated mentors, and reevaluating judging criteria for the
annual Prison Writing Contest.
- Our Finance and Administration teams are ensuring that our partners and vendors include
greater representation from organizations and companies owned and led by people of
- Our Human Resources team and managers across the organization are actively recruiting
and promoting qualified professionals from diverse populations and backgrounds,
including at the executive level and on our board of trustees. They are also providing
resources for staff, and particularly staff of color, as they work to combat racism in their
respective scopes of work.
- Our Development team is seeking to reflect continued and increased diversity across our
donor base and events, including gala honorees and featured guests at Author’s
- Our Communications team has broadened the array of news outlets on our outreach list
and, when appropriate, has made targeted outreach to vulnerable groups to introduce
relevant PEN America resources.
First Amendment + Racial Equity
As an organization dedicated to the defense of the right to free expression in the United States
and worldwide, PEN America strives to ensure that First Amendment rights, including those of
free speech and freedom of assembly, are upheld. Our commitment to free expression
encompasses dedication to ensuring that a diversity of voices are heard.
We recognize that, under certain circumstances, speech can cause harm. We emphasize that
protecting free speech is not an endorsement of all speech.
The First Amendment is a bulwark against government censorship, ensuring that the government
is not silencing speech because of its content. Defending First Amendment rights, even when
hateful or other abhorrent speech is at issue, is critical to limiting the role of government in
banning and punishing speech. Undermining First Amendment rights for some weakens them for
As an organization, we continue to have open dialogue about the tensions that arise in the course
of defending free speech in our diverse, digitized and divided society.
Alongside staff, our members, and the communities we serve across the country, PEN America is committed to center anti-racist practices in all aspects of our organization’s internal and external work. While we have taken significant strides over the past few years, we understand that much
of the anti-racist work that is needed to make sustainable change cannot happen overnight.
To make our work in this regard tangible and accessible to our communities, we commit to
revisiting this document once a year to update goals and values as the organization shifts, and as
the cultural and sociopolitical moment demands.