PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of November 20
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 filed an amicus brief in the case of Book People v. Wong, challenging Texas’s HB 900, which requires booksellers to “rate” books sold to public schools for sexual content. “HB 900’s censorious approach to literature in schools is antithetical to fundamental First Amendment values,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of PEN America’s Washington office. “The bill represents a dangerous attempt on the part of the state to intervene in art and literature, and its chilling effect would severely undermine writers’ creative freedom.”
- Palestinian poet and essayist Mosab Abu Toha was released from detention by Israel, likely because of public pressure, including from PEN America and publications like The New Yorker magazine, which Mr. Abu Toha has contributed to.
- For Native American Heritage Month, Manal Khan, Digital Communications Coordinator asked PEN Literary Award winners Oscar Hokeah and Morgan Talty to compile two reading lists that explore the depth and diversity of Native American literature, celebrating the profound contributions of indigenous writers to the literary landscape.
- PEN America condemned the cancellation of a play at Santa Monica College alongside the Dramatists Guild, the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. The play that caused controversy on campus was about an interracial romance between a white male plantation owner and a Black male slave.
- PEN America joined more than 80 civil society organizations, networks, think tanks, and institutions worldwide united by their commitment to human rights and democracy to endorse a statement calling on the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur on democracy. The statement stresses the urgency for the UN to actively strengthen human rights and democracy amid a concerning global trend of backsliding.
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) welcomed the decision by Iran’s Supreme Court to release rapper Toomaj Salehi. Iran’s Supreme Court ordered his release on Friday, November 18, 2023, stating that it had identified “flaws in the original sentence.”
- Kristen Shahverdian, PEN America senior manager of Free Expression and Education, and Sam LaFrance, manager of editorial projects for Free Expression and Education, wrote about how campuses can protect free speech and student safety amid the Israel-Hamas war.
- LaFrance wrote about the topics that teachers are too scared to teach in classrooms the 40 educational gag orders that have been passed in 2021. State legislative and policy efforts to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities–have been enacted via law or policy.
- Artists at Risk at PEN condemned Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor, Consuelo Porras, for the profoundly troubling developments in Guatemala, described as “reminiscent of a coup d’état”. ARC calls for the liberation of all artists, writers, activists, and others arrested for publicly opposing attempts to invalidate August’s presidential election results.
- PEN America called Hunter College’s cancellation of a scheduled screening of the film Israelism “totally antithetical to the principles of free expression.” Directed by Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen, the documentary is critical of American Jews’ support of Israel, and of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.
- Shannon Jankowski, interim Sy Syms Director for U.S. Free Expression Programs, said that X’s choice to file suit in Texas is “arbitrarily choosing a venue that’s known to be conservative, that’s likely to favor Elon Musk and X.”