(New York, NY) — PEN America today announced that it has launched a new chapter in Miami and South Florida. The new chapter is the seventh regional extension of PEN America, as the venerated literary and free expression group continues its work to engage its 7,500 Members and thousands of friends and allies in their own communities. Part of the PEN Across America effort, the chapter’s launch is part of PEN America’s ongoing work to promote informed debate, defend press freedom, engage in literary advocacy, and facilitate dialogue across barriers of all kinds.

“Miami and South Florida have always been extraordinarily active literary communities, and under the leadership of our volunteers and Members, we’re delighted to bring an even deeper level of engagement to Florida,” said Rebecca Werner, PEN America’s director of membership and national engagement. “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve felt it was particularly vital to strengthen the bonds among all those who are passionate about books, literature, and the freedom to write. We’re delighted to welcome PEN America Miami/South Florida into the fold.”

As with PEN America’s current chapters—Austin, Birmingham, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Piedmont Region, and Tulsa—PEN America Miami/South Florida will be led by two volunteer Members. 

  • Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is a transracial adoptee and the author of Hour of the Ox, which won the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, and was a finalist for the Florida Book Award and the Milt Kessler Award. 
  • Leslie Sainz is a first-generation Cuban American, born and raised in Miami, Florida. A 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Poetry, she holds degrees in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Carnegie Mellon University.

On Thursday, April 15, PEN America will kick off the establishment of its newest chapter during a virtual event at 8pm ET.  In celebration of National Poetry Month, four poets with roots in South Florida will read from recent works and discuss how the region informs their work.

Headquartered in New York City and with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., PEN America launched six initial regional chapters in October 2019. The chapter network allows PEN America—poised to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022—new ways to stage writers in conversations, advocacy campaigns, public debates, and more, drawing on PEN America’s national resources and the creative energy and priorities of the local literary community.

“Never before has PEN America reached more people, drawn together more writers, elevated more voices than the past few years,” said PEN America President Ayad Akhtar. “Even during a pandemic, our virtual gatherings have drawn record-setting crowds. It’s clear there’s a hunger across this country for the literary community, and a growing recognition of the need to defend freedom of expression. We couldn’t be happier to officially welcome Miami and South Florida to the family.”