PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of September 18
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 launched a new report that found book bans across the U.S. increased by 33 percent in the 2022-2023 school year. Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor highlights the disproportionate number of bans occurring in Florida — where over 40 percent of all book bans took place in the 2022-23 school year — and how state legislation and coordinated pressure campaigns from local groups and individuals have driven mass restrictions on access to literature. Since PEN America started tracking public school book bans in July 2021, we have recorded nearly 6,000 instances of banned books. This includes 3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles during the 2022-23 school year, impacting the work of 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators.
- PEN America honored Ms. magazine with its Impact Award, celebrating the pathbreaking feminist publication and its half-a-century of journalism centered on women and their lives “often ignored in the mainstream.” In a room with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, a co-founding editor of Ms., PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said that Ms. “has left an indelible mark on the landscape of journalism, activism and women’s rights.”
- Nossel wrote about the burning of religious books in Denmark as a dangerous threat to freedom of speech but also argued that it shouldn’t be punishable by law. “But while there’s no need to condone book burning and plenty of reasons to condemn it, it shouldn’t be punished by law.”
- PEN America Freedom to Read Program Director Kasey Meehan condemned the school district vote last week to review The Marietta City’s entire catalog of books for “sexually explicit” content. She said it is an “outrageous policy decision that is sure to lead to censorship. Such a broad directive can produce anxiety and uncertainty among those who have to enforce it, and is exceptionally burdensome on administrators, educators, and librarians.”
- PEN America welcomed the Congressional resolution bringing attention to the plight of Iranians marking the anniversary of the Iranian protests sparked by the death one year ago of Mahsa (Jina) Amini. In its 2022 Freedom to Write Index, PEN America found that Iran was the largest jailer of women writers in the world.
- PEN America called for the immediate release of Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy after his reported attempted suicide behind bars. Justin Shilad, PEN America’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy lead, said: “Egyptian authorities must end this cruel and unjust cycle by releasing him immediately and unconditionally. At stake is not only Galal’s fate but also that of other imprisoned writers, as well as Egypt’s cultural life itself.”
- PEN America strictly condemned the armed Israeli Police for confiscating textbooks from Palestinian students in Jerusalem, Shilad said: “The images of heavily armed Israeli police rifling through children’s school bags searching for any material pertaining to Palestinian identity portray a book banning nightmare, come to life. This practice suggests that Israeli authorities are targeting Palestinian students’ freedom to read, write, and learn. Palestinian students have already faced significant obstacles to access education under military occupation for decades.”
- PEN America stands with Alice Wong, a disability activist who was asked to make changes to her speech at Boston University. Our free speech experts, Kristen Shahverdian and Samantha LaFrance covered the issue in detail, read here.
- PEN Americ’s Digital Safety Program Assistant, Aashna Agarwal, wrote about the importance of a disinformation defense guideline to arm users to recognize that they’re being manipulated before they have been successfully indoctrinated by the likes of Andrew Tate and his followers on the internet. To learn more about media literacy, you can access PEN America’s Media Literacy Toolkit and the Field Manual against Online Harassment.
- PEN America Senior Manager for Digital Safety and Free Expression, Jeje Mohamed spoke about the alarming online harassment of a Las Vegas news reporter to the Associated Press. “Online harassment of journalists, particularly women and minorities, is an ongoing problem that hasn’t abated. In a 2020 global study, 73% of women journalists said they had experienced online abuse,” she said.
- An exhibition co-organized by PEN America Prison and Justice Writing Program, Return to Sender: Prison as Censorship, was featured in Hyperallergic focusing on the prison industrial complex’s mechanisms of silencing the incarcerated people by restricting their access to uncensored reading and writing materials.