Ayad Akhtar to Assume Presidency of PEN America
Pulitzer-winning playwright takes over from novelist Jennifer Egan to lead the nation’s foremost literary and free expression organization
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — PEN America today announced that Pulitzer-winning playwright, novelist, and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar will serve as the next president of PEN America, poised to lead the organization in its mission to promote a diverse literary culture and defend free expression. Akhtar succeeds novelist Jennifer Egan, who has shepherded PEN America through a rapid phase of expansion and success over the past three years as the organization has confronted the manifold challenges facing free speech in the U.S. and abroad.
Akhtar will assume the presidency December 2. His highly anticipated upcoming novel, Homeland Elegies (Little, Brown & Co./Hachette Book Group), publishes September 15 and launches at a PEN Out Loud event that evening. He has been a PEN America Trustee since 2015.
“Ayad is a dauntless documenter of our time,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, author of the recent Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All. “His writing across disciplines voices the unspoken and lays bare what many would rather keep cloaked. His willingness to break boundaries and risk backlash make him an especially appropriate leader for PEN America at a time when our collective cultural parameters are being renegotiated. He is a fierce advocate and an embodiment of the role of literature as a catalyst for change.”
PEN America is positioned at the vanguard of defending free expression in the U.S. and globally, work poised to grow under Akhtar’s leadership. In recent years, the organization has defended traditional arenas of free expression—press freedom, censorship, protest rights, and digital freedom—and put new free expression issues on the map, in particular infringements on speech on university campuses, online harassment, fake news and disinformation as a threat to free expression, the crisis in local news coverage, and China’s encroachments on free expression well beyond its own borders.
PEN America has also grown its national Membership base of more than 7,500 writers and readers in all 50 states. Over the past year, PEN America has established chapters across the country in Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, and Alabama—in addition to its offices in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles—broadening the definition of what the American literary community looks like. This March, PEN America hosted the largest Literary Awards ceremony in the program’s half-century history, elevating established writers, emerging talents, women, writers of color, and those who are setting the course for a new, more diversified American canon.
“PEN America has its work cut out for it in an era when the quest for truth is challenged as never before,” said Akhtar. “PEN America has become a powerful bulwark standing for the power of literature to reveal truths and bridge divides, an essential force amid today’s overlapping crises. I feel privileged to build on the visionary leadership of Jennifer Egan and to work with PEN America’s Trustees, staff, and writers to break new ground in fulfillment of our shared mission.”
Akhtar assumes leadership after a unanimous vote of the PEN America Board of Trustees and PEN America’s Members. It comes as PEN America embarks on a major national initiative to combat disinformation amid the pandemic and the November election, working with writers and free speech advocates to ensure America’s public discourse is free, open, and protected from the menace of fraudulent news and the deliberate spread of untruths.
In addition to the forthcoming Homeland Elegies, Akhtar is the author of American Dervish. His play Disgraced won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His other plays include the Tony Award-nominated and Kennedy Prize-winning Junk, and his screenwriting credits include the Independent Spirit Award-nominated screenplay for The War Within. Among other honors, Akhtar is the recipient of an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Steinberg Playwrighting Award, the Nestroy Award, and the Erwin Piscator Award, as well as fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, MacDowell, the Sundance Institute, and Yaddo—where he serves as a board director.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network. Its more than 7,500-strong Membership network is a nationwide community of novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.
PEN America is headquartered in New York City with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Media Contact: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected]