NEW YORK—Today, PEN America announced the launch of its online archive, chronicling 50 years of seminal American literary and cultural history with more than 1500 hours of audio and video dating back to 1966. The recordings include meetings, panels, and public events covering a breathtaking range of social, political, and cultural topics that will allow listeners to tune in to many of the most impassioned and important debates in late 20th– and early 21st-century intellectual life.

Featuring the voices of literary luminaries, intellectual giants, Nobel Prize winners, social reformers, philosophers, and political leaders, the PEN America Digital Archive comprises interviews, panels, tributes, conferences, and milestones in American literature, including Chilean poet Pablo Neruda‘s first visit to the United States, Haruki Murakami‘s first-ever public speaking engagement, and the first U.S. writer’s demonstration in support of Salman Rushdie, just a week after Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the author’s murder in 1989. Innumerable legendary voices are captured in the PEN America archive: Chinua Achebe, Edward Albee, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, J.M. Coetzee, E.L. Doctorow, Joan Didion, Umberto Eco, Allen Ginsberg, Jamaica Kincaid, Mario Vargas Llosa, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Michael Ondaatje, Grace Paley, Edward Said, Susan Sontag, and Amy Tan, to name a few.

A major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities enabled PEN America to preserve, digitize, and make available for the first time PEN America’s entire collection of audio and video recordings, many of which were previously at risk of physical deterioration.

“Over nearly 100 years, PEN America has convened America’s leading literary and intellectual lights in debates and dialogues that have framed the most pressing social, cultural, and political issues of the time,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “With the release of the PEN America Digital Archive, these essential voices have been brought back to life, brimming with personality, passion, opinion, and sometimes bombast. Hearing directly from these greats will offer information and inspiration to writers, scholars, and free expression advocates for generations to come.”

The digital archive provides a unique historical perspective on how American intellectuals engaged on major social and political challenges and crises including racism, censorship and surveillance, sexuality and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Cold War, the Iran hostage crisis, and September 11. PEN America’s physical archives are housed at the Princeton University rare book collection. 


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.

The PEN America Archive has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this site, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected], +1.646.981.0685