(MIAMI)— PEN America, the premier free expression and literary organization, today announced the appointment of Katie Blankenship, an experienced advocate and litigator, as its first-ever Florida director. She will lead an accelerated effort amid the crisis of censorship in Florida public schools and efforts to undermine academic freedom, and diversity and inclusion on college campuses.

Under Blankenship’s leadership, PEN America is expanding its work in Florida to mobilize citizens and advocate against the assault on fundamental rights by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration.

Blankenship previously served as deputy legal director for the ACLU of Florida where she was counsel on the Pernell v. Lamb case, which led to a preliminary injunction against the so-called ‘Stop WOKE’ Act, banning the teaching of certain concepts related to race and racism.

Amid unparalleled threats to democracy, free expression, academic freedom, and First Amendment liberties, PEN America’s accelerated Florida work is being supported by a group of bestselling authors; many either have ties to the state or their books are banned there. Spearheaded by a $1 million commitment last summer by Michael Connelly—author of the bestselling Lincoln Lawyer and Harry Bosch crime series whose dozens of books have sold 85 million copies worldwide—and his wife, Linda McCaleb Connelly, other bestselling authors joined to contribute and help raise more than $3.6 million.

“Katie is the proven leader and advocate we need to expand our effort to protect the freedoms to read and learn in Florida,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “The state has become an incubator for censorship, providing a pernicious model of book banning and  restrictive laws like the Stop WOKE Act and the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law as blueprints for other states. Our goal is to stop this censorship in its tracks by mobilizing resistance on the ground.  Katie has shown the mettle to do just that.”

In addition to legal strategy, Blankenship will join PEN America’s team of free expression experts in community engagement, legislative advocacy, and in mobilizing literary activism. Her first day is today, Nov. 13.

“We must fight this battle in the courts, on the streets, in the schools, and at the polls,” Blankenship said. “And I believe Floridians are ready to expand this fight against the silencing of teachers and the erasure of key subjects and history from classrooms, along with book banning. Groups are popping up all over the state to fight back and our statewide coalition is growing by the day.”

Florida overtook Texas during the last school year by banning more books in public school classrooms and libraries than any other state, according to PEN America’s data. Florida now ranks first in the nation and accounts for more than 40% of all documented bans. The state’s speech-constricting laws, policies, and book bans have become a template for conservative activists and lawmakers behind the movement that has led to nearly 6,000 instances of book bans since 2021. Books about race and by authors of color, along with topics focused on sexual orientation and gender are most frequently ripped from shelves, robbing students of the diversity of ideas and perspectives they need in a pluralistic society.

PEN America has been at the forefront of documenting and defending against this spreading censorship—unseen since the 1950s McCarthy-era Red Scare.

Through the organization’s volunteer-led Miami-South Florida Chapter (among ten in a national network) and its partnerships with the Florida Freedom To Read Project and others, PEN America has catalyzed public response to laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop W.O.K.E” acts, book bans, and the DeSantis administration’s campaign to remake the public New College of Florida in the image of a private university with an ultra-conservative agenda.

Blankenship joined the ACLU of Florida in 2021 as a staff attorney on the Immigrant Rights Campaign— she speaks Spanish fluently— and was promoted to deputy legal director six months later; she created and supervised the ACLU of Florida’s First Amendment Campaign.

Previously she was a lawyer in Nashville, TN with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.. A native of Nashville, Blankenship received her law degree in 2014 from Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, earned a master’s degree in the humanities from New York University in 2008, and a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2004.

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. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057