PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of October 23
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.
- Our Prison and Justice Writing program released “Reading Between the Bars: An In-Depth Look at Prison Censorship,” which details how prisons in the U.S. censor a staggering quantity of reading material under specious justifications and with virtually no accountability. “Censorship should not be a knee-jerk tactic by authorities to address other prison concerns, such as spurious claims that books are a conduit for drugs. Yet we are witnessing vast amounts of time, effort, and money expended in order to stop people from reading. This censorship must end.” Moira Marquis, senior manager of PEN America’s Freewrite Project and lead author of the report.
- In conjunction with the report, PEN America held an inaugural Prison Banned Books Week and an event in the exhibit “Return to Sender: Prison as Censorship” featuring music by Die Jim Crow Records performing artists.
- PEN America decried the decision of the State University System of Florida to shut down all Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters at member institutions. The move was made in consultation with Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose administration alleged that the student group committed a criminal felony offense–material support to a terrorist organization–through its speech, protests, and ‘Day of Resistance’ toolkit. PEN America rejects that allegation.
- In response to cancellations of book and cultural events, awards, exhibitions, and promotions, both regarding Palestinian writers and artists and on Jewish and Israeli topics and events, PEN America urged the literary and cultural communities to robustly defend the free exchange of ideas. We reject “efforts to hold writers, or indeed any civilians, culpable for the beliefs of a governing authority.”
- PEN America appreciated Scholastic for discontinuing their ‘separate collection of race and gender books’. PEN America Director of Free Expression and Education program, Jonathan Friedman said, “Scholastic recognized that, as difficult a bind as this pernicious legislation created, the right answer was not to become an accessory to censorship.”
- PEN America’s Freedom to Read Program Assistant, Madison Markham, testified on her experience at New College to the United Nations Human Rights Committee for their review of the United States’ commitment to human rights. This followed her participation in a shadow report submitted to the committee on the spread of authoritarianism in Florida through politically motivated infringement of free speech and the intimidation and criminalization of marginalized people and their rights to freedom of expression. PEN America previously submitted a report to the United Nations Committee on Civil and Political Rights, criticizing the human rights record of the United States on free expression, discrimination, and privacy.
- PEN America and UC Irvine co-hosted the first-ever Free Expression Student Summit in Irvine. The half-day program included workshops led by UCI faculty and PEN America staff on a variety of topics related to free expression including international human rights, book bans and educational gag orders, news media literacy, and protest rights in the United States.
- PEN America organized a panel moderated by Gary Shteyngart and featured UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation Mariana Katzarova, co-chair of HRC Memorial Sergei Davidis, and exiled Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko.
- On October 20, 2023, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) organized an Experts Meeting on Cultural Rights and Development to build upon and strengthen the cooperation established in 2019 between the civil society partners and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. The meeting convened a select group of distinguished experts spanning the diverse spectrum of cultural rights, including Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Alexandra Xanthaki.