PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of December 11
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.
- PEN America announced the election of a new president of the organization, Jennifer Finney Boylan, the celebrated breakthrough author and LGBTQ rights advocate. She succeeds Ayad Akhtar, who will remain on the Board of Directors as vice president.
- PEN America supported Iranian writer and activist Narges Mohammadi, who received the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. PEN America’s CEO, Suzanne Nossel, and Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Writers at Risk, attended the Nobel ceremony as guests of the family. Mohammadi, a 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honoree, serves as a reminder of ongoing human rights challenges, particularly in Iran, where numerous writers face unjust imprisonment.
- PEN America released a cumulative data summary, “Spineless Shelves,” documenting nearly 6,000 book bans in public schools from July 2021 to June 2023, revealing copycat bans and a “Scarlet Letter” effect, where authors faced increased scrutiny after bans. The report highlights the alarming rise of school book bans across 41 states, with Florida and Texas leading, and emphasizes the disproportionate impact on Black, LGBTQ+ authors and books about race.
- PEN’s Annual General Meeting, Conversation Amid Crisis: Sustaining Dialogue in Divided Times, featured a conversation with award-winning fiction and nonfiction writer Zaina Arafat; journalist and translator Yair Rosenberg; journalist, editor, and cultural critic Judith Shulevitz; writer and former Director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group Nathan Thrall; and author, lawyer, and equity advocate Kenji Yoshino.
- PEN America filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in the case of Moody v. NetChoice. LLC challenging Florida’s S.B. 7072– arguing that laws restricting content moderation online are unconstitutional.
- PEN America’s Kasey Meehan and Laura Schroeder participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by Rep. Ayanna Pressley focused on the wave of book banning happening across the country. They shared about PEN America’s work to document and push back against this educational censorship as well as the urgent need to defend the freedom to read.
- PEN America condemned the Russian government for putting Masha Gessen, author, journalist, PEN America member, and former Trustee, on a Most Wanted list, apparently as a reprisal against Gessen’s discussion of widely documented, unprovoked atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.
- PEN America mourned the killing of renowned Palestinian scholar and writer Refaat Alareer. Alareer was killed on December 7, by an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza.
- PEN America’s Free Expression and Education Director Jonathan Friedman wrote about what the university presidents should have said to Congress regarding book bans and freedom of speech.
- Friedman responded to the resignation of Liz Magill as the president of the University of Pennsylvania, urging a commitment to balancing robust free speech protections with creating an inclusive environment without inviting external interference from politicians or donors.
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) published a joint letter with 30 organizations in support of Cuban multimedia artist Tania Bruguera and the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (INSTAR), which has experienced harassment from Cuban authorities.
- ARC announced the 2023 fellowship cohort of the Center for Ethics and Writing, an initiative with Bard College. The fellowship is a non-residency program providing direct support for one year to five writers and artists whose free expression is threatened due to their socially engaged art.
- ARC hosted a Latin American regional workshop in Bogotá, Colombia, with 20 women and non-binary artists and activists from across Latin America to discuss present challenges to freedom of expression and create networks of empowerment and collaboration.
- Free Speech and education experts Jeremy Young and Samantha LaFrance wrote about an Ohio bill forcing legislators’ own idea of neutrality onto state universities that would gut intellectual freedom in higher education.
- PEN America announced a series of Emerging Voices Workshops in Los Angeles, beginning in June 2024, supported by the Unlikely Collaborators Foundation, to provide in-person, multi-genre writing workshops for early-career writers traditionally underrepresented in the literary world, aiming to enhance their connections and tools for publication.
- PEN America said the comments from Florida Education Commissioner Manny Díaz Jr. posted on X, that sociology “has been hijacked by left-wing activists” demonstrate that Florida has enacted an ideologically motivated ban on sociology in general education, undermining both academic freedom and student learning on campus.