(NEW YORK) – After PEN America announced its plans for its upcoming PEN America Literary Awards and the 2024 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, nine former PEN America presidents came together to stress the importance of the organization’s role in maintaining open dialogue within the writing community, including and especially at a time of divisive conflict.

The presidents, each a distinguished author, Ayad Akhtar, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Louis Begley, Joel Conarroe, Jennifer Egan, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Godwin, Salman Rushdie, and Andrew Solomon, wrote that they were aware of calls for writers to withdraw from PEN America events to register their dissatisfaction with the organization’s body of work on the current war. They recalled the history of the festival, first envisioned by Rushdie at a time of deepening global tensions after 9/11, and called on writers to find a way to come together even in this time of discord.

PEN America shared the following letter from its former presidents – 

Dear fellow authors and friends,

As past Presidents of PEN America, we unite at a moment of intense controversy, on the eve of the annual PEN America Literary Awards Celebration and the 20th anniversary of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. We are speaking out to underscore the meaning and importance of gathering and recognizing writers at a time of crisis worldwide and within our own community. This year’s festival is a tribute to our fellow former President Salman Rushdie, the visionary who conceived the festival and has championed it ever since, as he launches his new memoir, Knife, an emblem of courage and of the role of literature and truth as vessels of human resilience. 

The festival was conceived amid conflict to draw together diverse authors and thinkers at a time of deepening and deadly geopolitical tension after 9/11. In the ensuing decades as vitriolic and violence has surged, the visionary purpose  behind the festival has only grown more urgent.

PEN America has always embraced dissent in its ranks, recognizing that writing is an act of conscience, and that authors must be free to follow their own. Indeed, PEN World Voices has been a place for writers to debate and disagree – and for all of us to benefit from the rich exchanges. Never has participation in PEN America’s programs and events implied acquiescence with PEN America’s policies or stances – nor anything else, for that matter. PEN America is singular in its commitment to presenting varied voices and its willingness to engage challenging topics. We are aware that the 2024 festival and awards are subject to a call for withdrawals by some writers protesting the organization’s approach to the current war. We fully endorse PEN America’s Letter to the Community of March 20, 2024 responding to the withdrawals; we know the organization is making ongoing efforts to engage its critics and their concerns. We believe in PEN America and the festival and urge that, even at a time of discord, readers and writers will once again find a way to come together  to jointly quest for insight and inspiration. 

PEN America will soon announce program details for this year‘s event, which will be held in New York, May 8 – 11, and Los Angeles, May 8 -16. Having collectively devoted our time and energy to PEN America over many years, we care deeply about the organization and its role elevating a thriving community of independent voices. PEN America has evolved enormously over time, mounting a robust defense of the freedoms that make a writing life possible. We urge writers to keep faith in the community that we have built together so that PEN America can continue to evolve in ways that serve and elevate the writers as a vital force within society.


Ayad Akhtar
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Louis Begley
Joel Conarroe
Jennifer Egan
Frances Fitzgerald
Peter Godwin
Salman Rushdie
Andrew Solomon