(NEW YORK) — In response to  cancellations of book and cultural events, awards, exhibitions and promotions, both regarding Palestinian writers and artists, and on Jewish and Israeli topics and events, PEN America today urges the literary and cultural communities to robustly defend the free exchange of ideas. We reject “efforts to hold writers, or indeed any civilians, culpable for the beliefs of a governing authority.”

The cancellations included a conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen at 92NY; ads on NPR and literary events for Nathan Thrall’s book, A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: A Palestine Story; the decision by the Frankfurt Book Fair to cancel its award ceremony in honor of Palestinian writer Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail; a talk in Berlin for Palestinian Artist Emily Jacir.  We are also aware of  events canceled or postponed due to security concerns, including Jewish cultural events in Sweden, an exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts in Australia; and the  The Witness Palestine 2023 Festival in Rochester, New York.

PEN America issued the following statement:

“PEN America objects to the cancellation of book and cultural events, awards and promotions because of viewpoints and narratives that have become contentious in the context of the war between the Israeli government and Hamas. There are grave and legitimate  concerns about the human rights and humanitarian impact of the conflict on Israeli and Palestinian civilians. PEN America holds the deep conviction that the voices of writers and others should not be stilled or silenced, a commitment that is ever more important at times of deep strife. We believe it is a serious  mistake to cancel events and shut down dialogue on the basis of a writer’s viewpoint.

We understand that some of these cancellations are a result of genuine security concerns at a time of escalating violence. We urge local municipalities to provide host organizations the security support needed to ensure that culture can continue uninterrupted wherever possible.

PEN America was founded after World War I based on the idea that writers could play a role in preventing future wars; that when governments are locked in conflict, writers and literature can provide comfort, a bridge to empathy across divides, even a roadmap toward the faraway horizon of understanding. At a moment of great anguish, we urge the literary community to double down on that essential potential. We are guided by the PEN Charter which states in part that ‘literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.’ The charter requires us to do “our utmost to dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one world. It asserts ‘that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organized political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative.

Amid this most polarizing moment, we hold fast to these transcendent ideas. For the community of writers, we hope that what unites us – love of books, faith in free expression, respect for dissent – can be used as a tool to communicate and connect across our differences. We reject efforts to hold writers, or indeed any civilians, culpable for the beliefs or actions of a governing authority. We reject approaches that deny and denigrate on the basis of nationality, ethnicity or religion. We reject absolutes, recognizing that the value of literature and stories lies in unlocking the capacity of the human mind to hold nuance, complexity and contestation.”

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