New York City, June 29, 2011—PEN American Center, the largest branch of the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization, today announced changes to its by-laws that will open the ranks of its membership. Comprised of more than 3,400 writers, translators, editors, and other literary professionals across the country, PEN is a membership organization devoted to defending free expression and advancing literature throughout the world.

Prior to a unanimous vote by PEN’s Board of Trustees on June 15, most authors were required to have published two books to join PEN. PEN’s by-laws have now been amended to allow writers to apply for membership after the publication of their first book. Playwrights and screenwriters may join after producing one work in a professional setting. Others in the literary community who have achieved recognition in the field—e.g., publishers, editors, literary agents, scouts, and publicists—may also apply to become members of PEN.

In a letter to PEN members and associate members announcing the amendments, PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah and Membership Committee Chair John Oakes wrote, “PEN’s membership is the heart of the organization, defining its character and purpose. And so we are pleased to report that PEN’s board of trustees has voted unanimously to amend PEN’s by-laws with respect to its membership guidelines, and to have done so in a way that honors our history and essential spirit while opening our ranks to the fullest part of the literary community.” Appiah and Oakes added, “We’re particularly gratified that the changes to our by-laws will allow us to welcome a younger generation of PEN members, ensuring our ongoing relevance and vitality.”

The decision to amend PEN’s membership criteria was reached after full discussion. PEN’s membership committee unanimously proposed a recommendation to its trusteeship, by-laws, and executive committees, all of which contributed edits and approved the final proposal brought before and ratified by PEN’s board.

Article II will be replaced by the following language: “PEN American Center is an advocacy organization of literary professionals working to defend freedom of expression and to advance the cause of literature worldwide.” Article III as passed reads: “PEN welcomes to its membership all literary writers and those belonging to the larger literary community. Writers should have one book published; playwrights and screenwriters: one work produced in a professional setting; others should have achieved recognition in the literary field. Nominations are not necessary. While admission is at the discretion of the Membership Committee, PEN aims for inclusion, recognizing that a growing and vibrant membership strengthens and informs all of its efforts on behalf of writers and their readers.”

Anyone wishing to apply to PEN may download an application at www.pen.org/join. Completed applications should be sent to membership@pen.org. Annual membership dues are $100. PEN also welcomes associate members, a tier of membership open to all those who support PEN’s mission regardless of professional affiliation. Associate membership remains unchanged in all ways. Annual associate membership dues are $40, or $20 for students. Inquiries about PEN membership or associate membership may be directed to Alena Graedon, Manager of Membership and Literary Awards.

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. PEN International was founded in 1921 to dispel national, ethnic, and racial tensions and to promote understanding among all countries. PEN American Center, founded a year later, works to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship. Its 3,400 distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and advancement of human rights of such past members as James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Eugene O’Neill, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. To learn more about the PEN American Center, please visit: www.pen.org

Alena Graedon, 212-334-1660, ext. 108, alena@pen.org
Jessica Rotondi, 212-334-1660, ext. 103, jessica@pen.org