PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of November 13
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 CEO Suzanne Nossel addressed the crisis on American campuses amid the Israel-Hamas conflict for the Wall Street Journal, advocating for universities to reassess their role in fostering growth from differences. She highlighted the need to overcome barriers for meaningful student encounters and emphasized a renewed focus on free speech education for debate and respect for diverse viewpoints.
Nossel also wrote for the CNN that university leaders facing the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must navigate a delicate balance between upholding free expression, curbing violence and intimidation, and providing equal educational opportunities for all. She was also quoted in an NYT opinion piece highlighting that a university’s primary role should be to create a haven — a safe space — for open debate that emphasizes listening and mutual respect if not agreement. “To be open to both all people and all ideas”.
- Singer-songwriter and global pop icon P!nk teamed up with PEN America and Florida bookseller Books & Books to give away 2,000 banned books at her concerts in Florida. “Books have held a special joy for me from the time I was a child, and that’s why I am unwilling to stand by and watch while books are banned by schools,” P!nk said. “It’s especially hateful to see authorities take aim at books about race and racism and against LGBTQ authors and those of color. This is why I am supporting PEN America.”
Read: Pink will give away thousands of free books at Miami Sunrise Concerts
- On the 42nd anniversary of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN America called for the global release of all writers currently imprisoned as a result of their work. Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Writers at Risk program said: “Authoritarian governments instinctively fear writers because of their ability to inspire citizens to interrogate the present and dream of a better future.”
- PEN America announced the appointment of Katie Blankenship, an experienced advocate and litigator, as its first-ever Florida director. She will lead an accelerated effort amid the crisis of censorship in Florida public schools and efforts to undermine academic freedom, and diversity and inclusion on college campuses.
- For Native American Heritage Month, acclaimed author Oscar Hokeah, winner of the prestigious 2023 PEN/Hemingway Award, recommended a reading list highlighting the Native American literature that speaks about the realities of indigenous populations in the United States.
- PEN America hosted a panel at the Texas Book Festival with Roxane Gay and Luis Alberto Urrea, talking about the threats they perceive to free expression in America, moderated by Sabir Sultan.
- PEN America condemned the University of Southern California’s decision to bar Professor John Strauss from teaching on campus for the remainder of the fall 2023 semester as “a shocking overreaction”. Professor Strauss was recorded saying, “Hamas are murderers, that’s all they are. Everyone should be killed, and I hope they all are.”
- PEN America deplored Marietta School Board’s decision to uphold a ban on Flamer by Mike Curato. Kasey Meehan, director of the Freedom to Read program at PEN America, said: “While two parents were able to ban Flamer, without any transparent processes, an appeal to reinstate the book, signed by over 100 parents, was insufficient to return it to school library shelves. We urge the board to reverse course and commit to reconsideration practices”
- PEN America condemns the arrest of Russian artist, musician, and author Aleksandra (Sasha) Skochilenko, who has been sentenced to seven years in prison for “knowingly spreading false information about the Russian Armed Forces.” Polina Sadovskaya, Advocacy and Eurasia Director at PEN America said: “Instead of allowing for open discourse based on facts, authorities revert to spreading misinformation and shutting down all avenues of free expression, including the work of artists and writers like Sasha.”
- PEN America called on the Israeli government to immediately rescind inflammatory rhetoric and threats against freelance Palestinian photojournalists who supplied news agencies with images of Hamas’ unprecedented and horrific attack on civilians in Israel on October 7.
- A PEN Out Loud event with Ahmed Naji and Molly Crabapple celebrated Naji’s new memoir Rotten Evidence, which recounts his experience unjustly imprisoned in Egypt for his writing.