PEN America Launches its Eighth U.S. Chapter in Utah on March 29.

Literary Event in Salt Lake City Will Bring Together Advocates, Authors, and Allies.

(New York, NY) — Today, PEN America announced the launch of its eighth national chapter, bringing together writers and allies in Utah to advance the organization’s mission to defend free expression and celebrate literature.

The new Utah chapter extends the PEN Across America initiative that already includes PEN America’s current chapters in Austin, Birmingham, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Piedmont Region, Tulsa, and Miami/South Florida.

PEN America Utah will be led by two volunteer members:

Erika George is the Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law and directs the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah. She is an American Bar Foundation Fellow, a member of the American Law Institute, and she serves on the Advisory Board of the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights. She is the author of Incorporating Rights and previously worked for Human Rights Watch on equity, education, and expression issues.

Paisley Rekdal is the author of ten books of poetry and prose, including Nightingale and Appropriate: A Provocation. Her work has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fulbright Foundation among others. She was guest editor for Best American poetry 2020 and served as Utah’s poet laureate from 2017-2022.

“As Utah has found itself embroiled in anti-CRT (Critical Race Theory) debates and the removal of LGBTQ+ literature in libraries and schools, I think it’s necessary to defend the rights of educators, writers, journalists, and librarians to share and disseminate accurate information about history, sexuality, race, and identity,” says PEN Utah Chapter leader Paisley Rekdal. “PEN Utah was created to defend these established rights, and to ensure that we all have access to ideas, and free and open debate.”

The announcement comes in conjunction with a visit by PEN America’s president, the author, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar to the Tanner Humanities Center on Tuesday, March 29. He will deliver the David P. Gardner Lecture in Humanities and Fine Arts and inaugurate the new chapter beginning at 7:00 PM MDT.

Akhtar said: “I am honored and delighted to represent PEN America in Utah as we launch a new chapter, celebrate Utah’s exceptional literary community and welcome all those who stand with us to advocate for free and open debate and the importance of literary culture and ideas. Adding Utah as an eighth chapter in our centenary year is a moment to celebrate and a welcome opportunity to bring together under the PEN America banner new advocates to champion the freedom to write and recognize creative expression in all of its forms.”

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—celebrating its 100th year 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.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@PEN.org and William Johnson, wjohnson@PEN.org