(New York, NY) – PEN America, the organization of writers and readers advancing free expression and celebrating the power of literature, announced today the launch of six regional chapters across the United States. These new chapters – in Austin, Birmingham, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, the Piedmont Region of North Carolina, and Tulsa – are led by PEN America members and extend the reach of PEN America’s New York headquarters and offices in Washington and Los Angeles.

“At a time of exceptional threats to free expression and open discourse, our chapters will bring years of mobilization, activism and organizing among writing communities across the country to the next level. We are exceptionally proud of the local leaders who are driving forward this effort,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “With 7,500 members across the country and tens of thousands of allies, our movement – called PEN Across America – is pushing back against the breakdown of civil discourse, the marginalization of vital voices, and encroachments on press freedom, driving forward PEN America’s mission at a time when it has never been more essential.’’  

For nearly 100 years, PEN America has worked as an association of novelists, non-fiction authors, poets, playwrights, others from the literary community, and readers to protect and celebrate free expression. PEN America campaigns to free writers imprisoned around the world, monitors press freedom, elevates emerging writers and honors prominent authors, and addresses contested speech on campuses, fraudulent news, hate speech, online harassment, and the other complexities of expression in our digital age. The launch of these new chapters brings members together 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. 

“Readers are my people, and one of the chief delights of going on a book tour is connecting with communities of readers and writers across America,” said PEN America President Jennifer Egan. “I’m proud and thrilled that PEN America is working actively to foster and support literary culture in six critical regions and create a home for writers, readers, and advocates. I look forward to joining with our members to insist upon the cultural and civic value of literary expression, and protect the freedoms that make it possible—locally, nationally, and internationally.” 

After the 2016 presidential election, PEN America became convinced that the organization’s mission to both celebrate and defend free expression demanded reaching beyond the coasts. The groundwork for these new chapters has been laid through convenings, partnerships, and dozens of events PEN America has supported in 20-plus cities during the last two years — from advocacy-themed open mics and local author conversations at independent bookstores to meet-your-newsmaker gatherings and interactive media literacy workshops. 

The new chapters will be helmed by literary leaders who emerged during this preparatory phase of PEN Across America, and already have a rich network of writers, academics, librarians, booksellers, activists, and other allies in their communities. The Austin chapter will be headed by Chaitali Sen, author of the novel The Pathless Sky, and Tim Staley, who leads the Austin Public Library Foundation. Poets Ashley M. Jones and Alina Stefanescu will lead the Birmingham branch. In Dallas/Fort Worth, novelist and scholar Sanderia Faye will take the reins of that region’s chapter, alongside Deep Vellum publisher, translator, and bookstore owner Will Evans. In Detroit, writer and social worker Amber Ogden takes on the chapter alongside PEN America Literary Award Winner, Jonah Mixon-Webster. In North Carolina, writer and performer Deonna Kelli Sayed will lead the PEN America Piedmont Region. And the Tulsa group will be led by author and editor Jeff Martin, founder and executive director of the Tulsa Literary Coalition and Magic City Books.

“Since our founding in 1922, our greatest strength has been our Membership – a community of writers and readers committed to celebrating literary excellence, defending free expression, and protecting persecuted writers,” said PEN America’s Director of Membership Rebecca Werner. “Rather than pre-ordaining a select list of geographies, to build these chapters we have worked hand-in-hand with local leaders, focusing on the communities that have been most energized and organized as the leading edge in our drive to become a more fully national organization.”

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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.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892