PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of October 16
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 mourned the devastating loss of civilian lives in Gaza and condemned threats to free expression and the free flow of vital information to the public arising out of the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine. PEN America research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa, Justin Shilad said: “There can be no freedom to write, think critically, dream of, or plan for a better world amid bomb blasts, sieges, terror attacks and kidnappings. Violations of the laws of war in Gaza will result in collective punishment and grave consequences for free expression and Palestinian culture”.
- PEN America brought attention to the stifling of free speech on campuses amid a nationwide wave of campus protests related to the Israel-Palestine war. CEOs of numerous private companies are publicly renouncing students who have made anti-Israel statements. In response, PEN America’s senior manager of free expression, Kristen Shahverdian said: “Universities have an obligation to protect the free speech rights of their students.”
- PEN America’s Free Expression and Education Programs Director Jonathan Friedman testified before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. What’s at stake, said Friedman, is “whether we can live in a diverse society that upholds our traditions of freedom and democracy for us all. Or whether we want to allow a vocal minority with a discriminatory intent to narrow our students’ educational horizons.”
- PEN America strongly condemned the detention by the Russian government of Alsu Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), for failing to register as a “foreign agent.” PEN America Advocacy and Eurasia Director, Polina Sadovskaya said: “As astonishing as it sounds, in today’s Russia, simply exercising one’s right to free speech can land you in prison. We call on the U.S. government to do everything in its power to facilitate the immediate release of Kurmasheva.”
- Among the events kicking off the fall literary season were Justin Torres in conversation with Angela Flournoy about his National Book Award short-listed novel, Blackouts.
- A.M. Homes and Ayad Akhtar spoke about placing politics under the microscope, in conversation with Sarah Thankam Mathews.
- In collaboration with the Dart Center, we hosted a conversation with Nobel Peace Prize-winner and Maria Ressa and investigative journalist Patricia Evangelista about Evangelista’s new book Some People Need Killing: A Memoir of Murder in My Country.
- On the publication of David L. Ulin’s psychological thriller, Thirteen Question Method, he was joined by writers who have made a special art of writing Los Angeles—the capital of noir—including Tod Goldberg, Steph Cha, and Rachel Howzell Hall.
- PEN America Editorial Director Lisa Tolin wrote about the 450 books that have been pulled out of libraries in Iowa – including the Holocaust memoirs Maus by Art Spiegelman and Night by Elie Wiesel, dozens of classics, and books written for young readers – at the start of the school year, according to a survey of schools by The Des Moines Register.
- PEN America shared the dismay we are hearing from authors over news that, at Scholastic Book Fairs, access to certain books by a diverse group of authors has been limited or partitioned because of content related to race, racism and LGBTQ+ identities.
- In response to the decision by the Frankfurt Book Fair to cancel its forthcoming award ceremony in honor of Palestinian writer Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Chief Program Officer, Literary Programming at PEN America said: “LitProm should reconsider this move, and literary organizations worldwide should affirm their commitment to free expression and pluralism even amid conflict.”
- PEN America called a doxxing campaign against Harvard University students “an undeniable threat to freedom of expression.” Kristen Shahverdian, PEN America’s senior manager of free expression and education, said: “We strongly condemn the harassment of any students, regardless of their viewpoint, and we encourage other universities to follow Harvard’s lead in promoting safety and security for their campus community.”
- With campus controversies and protests occurring amid the ongoing violence in Palestine, PEN America commented: “It is the duty of higher education to foster an environment where open discourse and disagreement across the ideological spectrum can occur.”