PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of January 15
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 convened a Free Speech Summit at Harvard University, where CEO Suzanne Nossel emphasized the need for universities, including Harvard, to address the crisis of young people feeling unable to express themselves, stating that Harvard could be a leader in upholding free speech values, while the panel discussed the challenges of navigating difficult conversations and the impact of cancel culture, to build intellectual vitality on campus.
- Dietlind Lerner, our Communications Consultant wrote about how she and her transgender daughter bonded over a drag queen reality show: How RuPaul Changed My Life.
- Suzanne Trimel, Senior Communications and Media Advisor wrote about Bill O’Reilly’s switch to advocating against book bans after his book was banned in Florida, where over 1,600 books, were banned due to vague wording in the state’s law, HB 1069, with the organization actively suing Escambia County in federal court to contest the censorship, a case that has been allowed to proceed by a federal judge.
- Samantha LaFrance and Tasslyn Magnusson wrote about the twenty-five books that have been banned in Marietta, Georgia since September 2023 over the objections of parents in the district.
PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) released the Russian translation of A Safety Guide for Artists. ARC has witnessed a momentous surge in applications for assistance from Russian and Belarusian artists. The intense and sustained repression against artists and cultural professionals expressing anti-war sentiments or who are considered dissidents of the Lukashenko and Putin regimes has resulted in urgent demand for a version of the Safety Guide that is accessible to Russian speakers.
- PEN America strongly condemned the persistent judicial harassment of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write awardee Narges Mohammadi and demanded an immediate cessation of the punitive measures inflicted upon her as a result of her writing and activism conducted while in Evin prison.
PEN America’s ARC participated in the Censurados Film Festival in Peru by hosting a panel discussion titled “Cinematic Narratives in Conflict Contexts: Experiences from Mexico and Peru.” The discussion delved into the intersection between documentary production and conflicts in Mexico and Peru, where attacks on communities and territories through organized crime, extractivism, and governmental projects have given rise to powerful cinematic narratives that challenge hegemonic opinions and trends.
- ARC published a blog post reflecting on ARC’s women’s workshop hosted in Bogota, Colombia in December.
ARC published a thread on X responding to the distressing comments from a key drafter of Iran’s pending bill – the “Protection of Family Through Promotion of Hijab and Chastity Culture” which has led to rising tensions among Iranian artists.
ARC published a thread on X responding to the harsh sentencing of Myanmar’s award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist, Shin Daewe who was sentenced to life in prison under the country’s anti-terrorism law.
PEN Out Loud kicks off the 2024 programming season featuring legendary artist Ai Weiwei in the only U.S. appearance for the launch of his first work of graphic nonfiction, Zodiac: A Graphic Memoir joined in conversation with novelist, memoirist, illustrator, and cultural critic, Mira Jacob.
- PEN America responded and supported an injunction by the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals against a Texas law (HB 900) mandating sexual content ratings for school books, emphasizing that blocking the flawed statute protects booksellers from intrusive rating systems, and expressing relief that the injunction safeguards the fundamental right to read for students in Texas, while also highlighting the absurdity and dangers of the proposed rating system.
- See previous PEN America updates