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.

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith kicked off our fall literary season in conversation with Yaa Gyasi. (Photo: Jasmina Tomic)


  • PEN America kicked off our fall season of literary events with a PEN Out Loud conversation between Zadie Smith and Yaa Gyasi to a full room at The Cooper Union.
  • Across town, we had a sold-out opening reception for Return to Sender: Prison as Censorship, an exhibit co-organized by our Prison and Justice Writing Program. The exhibit continues. until Oct. 28.
  • CEO Suzanne Nossel participated in the keynote conversation with Salman Rushdie at the National Constitution Center’s First Amendment Summit. He said the First Amendment was one of the reasons he decided to move to America.

  • After receiving more than 150 applications in the first 24 hours of the fund’s opening, the first round of Screenwriter Emergency Financial Assistance grants will reach early-career screenwriters this week. One grantee told us, “PEN America’s kindness, community, and support is truly appreciated and will help me stay afloat during these trying times.”
  • On the anniversary of the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died while in police custody following her arrest by Iran’s morality police for alleged improper wearing of the hijab, PEN America called upon the Iranian government to cease its continued persecution of dissident voices. Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s director of Writers at Risk said “Writers and artists, alongside thousands of Iranians, have been brutalized by a government whose only goal is to hold onto power and who must be held to account for these crimes and their stifling of free expression and human rights.”
  • PEN America also 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. The submission focuses on the increasing number of educational gag orders, book bans, and laws suppressing LGBTQ+ speech and drag performances. It also examines the negative impacts of current legislative proposals on privacy and child online safety.
  • We worked with Harper’s Bazaar on a feature package on book bans, featuring a scrollable, shoppable list of every book currently banned in the United States.
  • PEN America partnered with the “Alt New College”, which was inaugurated this week as a response to the unprecedented takeover of the New College of Florida (NCF) and resulting limits on academic expression in Florida. Its mission is to bring leading thinkers and educators, including former NCF faculty, to support the academic freedom of students who have been put in the middle of a political crossfire by partisan politicians.  
  • PEN America launched a Free Expression Advocacy Institute and a Freedom to Read Institute with Brooklyn Public Library to train students to champion free expression and combat book bans. Authors Alex Gino, George M. Johnson and Mary Beth Tinker are among the speakers for The Free Expression Advocacy Institute (Sept. 20-Nov. 8) and the Freedom to Read Advocacy Institute (Oct. 19-Nov. 9) this fall.
  • PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program launched an anthology series publishing the 34 winners of the 2023 #PENPrisonWritingAwards! These incarcerated writers have been named winners in five categories: poetry, fiction, nonfiction-essay, nonfiction-memoir, and drama. Order your copy here.
  • PEN America welcomed the U.S. Department of Education’s appointment of a so-called book czar, Matt Nosanchuk, in response to the unprecedented rise of book bans in schools. Nadine Farid Johnson, PEN America’s Washington Director said: “Book removals and restrictions continue apace across the country, as the tactics to silence certain voices and identities are sharpened. Empowering the coordinator to address this ongoing movement is critical.”
  • PEN America, alongside other civil society organizations, called upon the Saudi authorities to overturn teacher Mohammed al-Ghamdi’s conviction, end their vicious assault on free speech, and release all those detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. We also called on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to uphold its human rights responsibilities and ensure the safety of its users against state monitoring and surveillance. 
  • PEN America and Tulsa Group hosted a “Freedom to Read” summit for the “Black History Saturdays” series. 
  • PEN America Trustee James Hannaham spoke to a writer in solitary confinement.
  • Our PEN Ten interview series featured our Emerging Voices fellows and Sola Mahfouz and Malaina Kapoor’s Defiant Dreams, the telling account of an Afghan girl who was prevented from attending school under the Taliban.
  • Our interviews of 2023 Dau Prize winners continued with Verity McKay, Annabelle Ulaka, and Jo Saleska.  

See previous PEN America updates