(NEW YORK)— PEN America, its president, Ayad Akhtar, and a group of past PEN America presidents today joined free expression and literary organizations and publishers in endorsing the Freedom to Read statement, adopted 70 years ago by the American Library Association and the Association of American Publishers and reissued now as the country faces a crisis of book bans  and censorship.

In addition to Akhtar, the statement was endorsed by all living past PEN America presidents Kwame Anthony Appiah, Louis Begley, Ron Chernow, Joel Conarroe, Jennifer Egan, Frances FitzGerald, Peter Godwin, Francine Prose, Salman Rushdie, Michael Scammell, and Andrew Solomon.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel issued the following statement

“The freedom to read is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy and a thriving society. The drafters of the Freedom to Read statement put forward a ringing endorsement of this principle, forcefully rebutting the varied excuses for curtailing the individual liberty to explore books and words. The call to action they issued 70 years ago, as the McCarthy-era Red Scare emboldened censorship, is as urgent today as the day it was drafted. Amid a climate of newfangled censoriousness, the chilling of speech and out-and-out censorship in the form of book bans and laws that justify and mandate the suppression of ideas, the statement offers a bold reminder of how and why we safeguard the freedom to read. Their forthright, uncompromising rejection of the notion that books are dangerous, that tastes and interests can be coerced, and that the identity of an author should foreclose a book from being read are essential entreaties that demand to be heard and heeded in this new era of censorship. In the digital age books offer a lone portal to a vanishing realm of deep thought and sustained attention. It is therefore vital to renew the call to action for librarians, publishers, educators, government, institutions, writers and readers to stand up once again for the freedom to read.”

Akhtar released the following statement:

Efforts to suppress ideas are inimical to democracy in its truest sense. We need to be clear-eyed about these threats, forthright in calling them out, and willing to defend against them. If we expect to understand — let alone practice — responsible citizenship, we owe it not only to our young people, but to ourselves to stand for the freedom to read. At stake is our democratic future, and the time to act is now.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057