“PEN is the voice of cultures truthfully addressing one another rather than governments or armies in confrontation. The object is not to win something, but to illuminate something.”
—Arthur Miller

PEN American Center is the U.S. branch of the world’s oldest international literary and human rights organization. International PEN was founded in 1921 in direct response to the ethnic and national divisions that contributed to the First World War. PEN American Center was founded in 1922 and is the largest of the 144 PEN centers in 101 countries that together compose International PEN.

Throughout its 90-year history, PEN American Center has remained a writer-centered organization in which members play a leading role. PEN presidents, such as Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, and Salman Rushdie have, and continue to place themselves at the forefront of the struggle to oppose censorship and defend writers.

Today, PEN American Center is comprised of 3,400 Professional Members who represent the most distinguished writers, translators, and editors in the United States. PEN also welcomes Associate Members who come from all parts of the literary community—booksellers, librarians, students, passionate readers—and who share PEN’s ideals. The direct involvement of this broad base of committed individuals forms the cornerstone of PEN’s ability to advocate for the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad. Additionally, Member Committees and groups such as the Translation Committee, the Children’s/Young Adult Book Authors Committee, the Writers’ Roundtable Committee, and the Women’s Literary Workshop are formed by Members for Members as a means to discuss and act on issues challenging their constituents.

PEN’s programs reach out to the world and into diverse communities within this country. They promote writing and literature at every level and are founded on the belief that free expression is an essential component of every healthy society.

PEN globally advocates efforts to defend writers who are imprisoned, endangered, or persecuted for their work and protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is threatened. The program mobilizes PEN Members and supporters to confront local, national, and regional threats to freedom of expression. 


The Readers & Writers program brings young people into contact with outstanding literature and the individuals who create it. The program includes author panels for high school students; writing and reading workshops for high school classes; and the Summer Writing Institute, which invites teens ages 15-18 to interact directly with professional writers in a series of workshops. 


The Prison Writing Program promotes the idea that writing and creative self-expression can be rehabilitative. The program offers writing instruction through its Handbook for Writers in Prison and an extensive one-one Mentoring program. The program helps provide incarcerated writers with an audience for their work through the annual PEN Prison Writing Contest. Winning manuscripts are published on the PEN web site.

The PEN Writers’ Fund assists professionally published writers and editors who are facing acute financial crisis by providing temporary financial relief to alleviate hardship that might otherwise force them to abandon their work. The Fund also maintains an online directory of assistance programs, run by other nonprofits and government agencies, which can help writers and editors in crisis with additional financial grants, legal advice, medical assistance, crisis counseling, and basic welfare aid. 


The Children’s/Young Adult Committee has monthly meetings to discuss a variety of topics that affect children’s and young adult book authors in the course of their careers, such as censorship, racism, and the inequality of access for readers from underserved school districts. The committee also supports authors whose books have been challenged in schools and libraries, provides books and school visits to an elementary school in New Orleans, and administers the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship to a fiction writer of exceptional promise. 

For one week each spring, the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literatureshowcases the work of more than 50 international writers from across the globe in conversations, readings, performances, and panels together with their American counterparts for an exciting cross-cultural celebration of the written word. Chaired by Salman Rushdie, the Festival has featured such luminaries as Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, Orhan Pamuk, Umberto Eco, Ian McEwan, and Mario Vargas Llosa to name just a few.

The PEN Literary Awards is the most comprehensive awards program in the country, offering over $100,000 each year to fiction writers, poets, translators, children’s authors, biographers, nonfiction writers, and playwrights. Each prize is conferred by a panel of PEN members who bring to the task a familiarity with the solitary task of creating great literature. 


PEN’s Open Book Program works to ensure that American literature reflects the diversity of American life by increasing the participation of African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean, Latino, and Native American writers within PEN and the literary culture at large. 

Held throughout the year, PEN’s Public Programs offer opportunities to see both the world’s most distinguished authors, as well as rising literary stars, participate in a variety of events – from intimate conversations to large-scale tributes. These events provide a public face for the organization and reflect PEN’s mission, celebrating literature and its diversity, promoting free expression, and engaging with topical issues. Audio clips from past programs are available for download in PEN’s Audio Archive.

PEN has always been concerned with the promotion of literary works from other languages and cultures. In recent years, this mission has taken on special prominence as the intellectual and political isolation of the United States has grown. The Translation Program maintains an online directory of translators and a list of out-of-print or untranslated works and administers the PEN Translation Fund Awards.

PEN’s literary journal publishes fiction, poetry, conversation, criticism, and memoir. It champions international authors and provides first-hand insight into the minds of contemporary writers through provocative symposia. Past contributors include Paul Auster, Nikki Giovanni, Marilynne Robinson, Salman Rushdie, Susan Sontag, John Edgar Wideman, and many others.