(New York, NY) – PEN America, joining the ranks of cultural institutions and festivals changing their plans to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, has cancelled the 2020 PEN World Voices Festival: These Truths, this year’s edition of the United States’ foremost international literary festival, which was slated to take place May 4-9 in venues across New York City. The organization intends to use digital media including a new podcast, The PEN Pod,” to share conversations with writers, poets, translators, thinkers, and activists on the festival theme: truth-telling in a time of rampant disinformation.

“We come to this conclusion with heavy hearts but the threat of COVID 19 is a truth we cannot deny and that makes this Festival, as planned, impossible. We had hopes that this crisis might ebb by May, and that we could offer the Festival as a kind of balm to a battered city. It’s now plain such plans are neither realistic nor safe for our participants and our audiences,” Suzanne Nossel (PEN America CEO) and Chip Rolley (Director of the PEN World Voices Festival and Senior Director of Literary Programs at PEN America) wrote in a letter to supporters. “The World Voices Festival was founded in the wake of 9/11 to provide a beacon for writers and audiences from around the world and to build bridges across borders as an antidote to cultural isolationism. As a new and unexpected isolation is thrust upon us, we regret deeply that we won’t be able to shine that light or foster those vital in-person connections. Right now, we’re working hard to find ways to carry the spirit of the PEN World Voices Festival despite the circumstances. The foundation of PEN America is a union of writers that transcends political, geographic, and ideological divides. Those connections remain strong, and we will find ways to fortify them in the coming days.”

The conversations, interviews, readings, and musical performances comprising the festival were to feature Margaret Atwood, Andrés Barba, Jon Batiste, Ishmael Beah, Mahogany L. Browne, Lydia Davis, Roxane Gay, Amitav Ghosh, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Hunter Harris,  Jeremy O. Harris, Yuri Herrera, Suleika Jaouad, Jill Lepore, Sara Mesa, Lynn Nottage, Ben Okri, Elif Shafak, Jenny Slate, Danez Smith, Zadie Smith, Brandon Taylor, Jia Tolentino, Rebecca Traister, David Treuer, Tara Westover, Jeanette Winterson, Jamila Woods, and many more.

Among the avenues PEN America is pursuing to share the words, ideas, and artistry of festival participants is “The PEN Pod,” which aims to provide regular updates and conversations about literature and free expression, and provide an outlet for various spring 2020 live events that PEN America has postponed or canceled.

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. pen.org

For more information, please contact Blake Zidell or Adriana Leshko at Blake Zidell & Associates: 718.643.9052, [email protected], or [email protected]