(LOS ANGELES) — PEN America welcomed the June 2024 Emerging Voices Workshop Cohort Martin Aguilera, Imani Cezanne, Joyce Chu, .CHISARAOKWU., Ngozi Ekeledo, Elaina Erola, Marissa Evans, Kent Faulcon, Marilyn Hope, Rhys Langston Podell, Ziad Reslan, Atia Sattar, Phylise Smith, Kanha Tith, and Nick Thorsen. Each participated in the workshop during the full week of June 24 to develop a manuscript-in-progress with peers and expert instructors. They also had the opportunity to hear from visiting authors, editors, publishers, digital marketers, and literary agents, and presented their works-in-progress at a celebratory public reading on the final day of the workshop. 

This year’s facilitators included: Natashia Déon, Shonda Buchanan, and Nikki Darling. The workshop was managed by Lily Philpott, who has worked for close to a decade in the arts and culture nonprofit sector in New York City, and is a member of the Starlings Collective, a group supporting BIPOC adoptee writers; a co-chair of the International Literature Committee at the Brooklyn Book Festival; and the volunteer Director of Programs with Singapore Unbound.

This application cycle, the 15 workshop participants were selected from over 150 applications to participate in the first in-person Emerging Voices Workshop hosted in Los Angeles since 2016. The craft-intensive program is an outgrowth of the Emerging Voices Fellowship, who recently announced their 2024 Fellows, and aims to contribute to the literary community by diversifying publishing and entertainment industries. PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights. The focus of the Emerging Voices Program, to diversify the stories that are published, echoes PEN’s mission to foster creativity and free expression for all.

This workshop was made possible by the support of the Unlikely Collaborators Foundation.


Marissa Evans is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles writing about health, culture, policy and race. She most recently reported with the Los Angeles Times where she covered the intersections of health, culture and entertainment and before that was covering race and healthcare for the newspaper. She reported previously for the Star Tribune writing on housing, health, affordability and equity issues in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. Her work in Minnesota on how the state allows private hospitals to seize tax refunds from consumers with unpaid medical bills led to legislation being filed during a 2021 Minnesota Legislative session to end the practice. While reporting for the Texas Tribune in Austin, she won an 2018 Online News Association award in explanatory reporting for her project on Texas’ maternal mortality problem. She is a former Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grantee and Carter Center Mental Health Reporting fellow. She is an alumni of Marquette University.

City: Los Angeles, State: California 

Martin Aguilera is a writer and filmmaker residing in Los Angeles, California. Born and raised in El Paso, Texas to immigrant parents from Chihuahua, Mexico, his work examines the human condition through a genre lens and often explores the taboo limits of society or the transgressive boundaries of the individual. He’s accomplished in screenwriting, including on the Netflix series THE CRAVING, as the winner of the 2021 Nashville Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition, as an Official Selection of 2021’s The Next List, spotlighting him as a top emerging screenwriter in the entertainment industry, as well as a fellow of Film Independent’s Project:Involve and winner of the Slamdance Teleplay Competition. Martin has worked on projects for a variety of independent producers, and served as story consultant on movies for Blumhouse, Sony, Paramount Pictures, and Searchlight. He’s featured in two anthologies: “A Valentine for Timothy” in NEVADA NECROMANCE and “Ashes” in SHALLOW WATERS VOL. 7. Martin has been a contributor to the legendary magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and an essay he wrote entitled “Personal Borders” appears in THE BROKEBACK BOOK: FROM STORY TO CULTURAL PHENOMENON.

City: Los Angeles, State: California


Ngozi Ekeledo is writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Vox, NBC News, The Chicago Tribune, Nylon, Food & Wine, and other publications. She is a graduate of Northwestern University.

City: Los Angeles, State: California






Phylise Smith is a native of Los Angeles and currently lives in Claremont, California.

Her poetry and fiction focuses upon gender, the body and identity as well as political issues. She has published in numerous journals as well as locally in the Los Angeles Cultural Calendar and the Los Angeles City College journal, Citadel.

Smith was previously an American Association Writers (AWP) mentee in poetry and is currently completing her second year in the Denver Lighthouse Writers Workshop Book Project where she is working on a novel exploring the interaction of African and African American relationships.

Smith has served as a past associate poetry editor for the Los Angeles Expo Review and has participated in and received scholarships for many writing conferences including Sewanee, Tinhouse, Minnesota North Woods Writing Conference, Napa Valley Writer’s Conference and the International Literary Seminars Program in Kenya.

As an Anaphora Arts Fellow, she has participated in Anaphora’s Novel Bootcamp with Chris Abani and has participated in other Anaphora Arts programs. She has contributed to the Dictionary of Literary Biography for 2023 and 2024. Excerpts from her current draft novel have been longlisted for the Fence Magazine Fiction Prize and nominated for the UCLA Writers Extension Program James Kirkwood Literary Prize and the Allegra Johnson Writing Prize.

City: Claremont, State: California


Marilyn Hope is a queer Korean American writer and visual artist who studied English literature at the University of Denver, where she was a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and a Special Citation for Outstanding Literary Achievement. She received the first place award in CRAFT’s Short Fiction contest in 2019, and in 2021, she was the winner of CRAFT’s Editors’ Choice Award for Creative Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Fractured Literary, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Flash Fiction Online.



Kent Faulcon is an award-winning TV and Film writer-director, playwright, and actor. He earned his BFA from the U.N.C. School of the Arts and is a former member of New York’s Playwrights Horizons African-American Writers Unit. His screenplays have been recognized and awarded from Creative Screenwriting Unique Voices Competition, Scriptapalooza, WeScreenplay and Fade In Awards True Story Competitions. Kent has an extensive acting career in many film and T.V. projects, including SELMA, MEN IN BLACK, AMERICAN BEAUTY, NCIS, BLACKISH, WAR OF WORLDS, and more. Kent has workshopped his current literary work at SCBWI’s Los Angeles Working Writer’s retreat and has attended workshops presented by Story Studio Chicago and Anaphora Arts. He is excited to embark on this next chapter of his creative storytelling journey.

City: Los Angeles, State: California


Elaina Erola is a watercolorist, attorney, and member of the Blackfeet Tribe. She was a recipient of the Anne Lacascio Memorial Scholarship for the 2020 Mendocino Coast Writers Conference and a finalist in the 2021 San Francisco Writers Conference Contest. She received the 2023 Redwood Award in Creative Non-Fiction from Toyon Literary Magazine at Cal Poly Humboldt and won the 2024 Maria Spiridonova Remembered Writing Contest. Her work has appeared in Alternating Press, The Bangalore Review, Yellow Medicine Review, the Society for Cultural Anthropology, and Texas Tech Law Review.

City: Eureka, State: California


Photo by Libby Burtner

Joyce Chu is an investigative and literary journalist based in California. She thrives on telling people-centric stories that connect readers to the intimate, human experiences of another. She unreservedly believes in the power words hold, and wields them to expose injustices, change problematic systems, illuminate marginalized voices, hold those in power accountable, and stir inspiration. Joyce has won multiple awards for her reporting, including first place in investigative reporting from the Virginia Press Association for a series that exposed the maltreatment of disabled and elderly residents in a group home, leading to the state shutting it down, and first place in feature profile storytelling. In 2023, she was honored as the Journalist of the Year by the Virginia Press Association. Joyce is currently working on a biography about an Afghan refugee who overcame abject poverty, gnawing starvation, near-death experiences, and civil war. Against all odds and with no formal schooling, he rose to become an executive chef and fulfilled a long-time dream of opening his own restaurant that gives free meals to those in need.

City: San Jose, State: California

Ziad Reslan is a writer and policy expert whose work spans tech policy, immigration and human rights. Reslan’s writing is informed by his diverse professional background, which includes roles at the World Bank and his time as an attorney in New York. Currently he is a Product Policy Manager at Google. As a contributing writer for TechCrunch from 2018 to 2022, Reslan explored pressing issues at the intersection of technology, public policy, and societal impact. A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Reslan has used his platform to advocate for immigrant rights and combat corruption. His piece in The New York Times, “Harvard Student: ‘I Worry If I Leave, I Won’t Be Let Back In,'” offered a personal perspective on the impact of the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban. Reslan’s commitment to human rights is further evidenced by his pro bono work assisting refugee claimants and victims of sex trafficking both in the United States and Thailand. Fluent in Arabic, his mother tongue, and Spanish, and having traveled to 79 countries and lived in six, Reslan brings a truly global outlook to his writing. His work consistently seeks to bring the alienation and triumph of the immigrant experience to audiences in the United States and beyond.

City: San Francisco, State: California 


Nick Thorsen worked as a producer for reality and Talk TV for ten years and is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, West. The bulk of his writing experience comes from script writing for the Dr. Phil Show. He is currently writing his first memoir and is working towards publishing for the first time. He sees being invited to be a part of PEN Emerging Voices as a gift and a sign that he’s moving in the right direction.

City: Los Angeles, State: California


My name is Kanha (pronounced canh-nhaa). Writing has always been how I express myself. From writing in my diary to release what I was holding inside to sending long texts with full sentences and to that twelve-pageletter I once wrote to a boy I liked. Writing has been my portal and healer. In my wildest dreams, I’m writing stories of Khmer people falling in love, healing from intergenerational trauma, and finding home. I was born in the refugee camps at the border of Thailand and growing up in the U.S., I’ve struggled with finding my Khmer identity and I want to explore this journey through writing stories of love (self, mother-daughter relationships, friendships, and romantic). As the eldest daughter and holding those responsibilities for most of my life, I’m taking the time now to try to find my true self, give myself space and grace to make mistakes, have fun, and let go. I also enjoy taking road trips with no destination in mind while listening to a mixtape of Taylor Swift, BTS, and Khmer music.

State: California


Rhys Langston Podell is a writer, musician, and visual artist born, raised, and based in Los Angeles, California. Publications such as the NY Times, the LA Times, AFROPUNK, LA Weekly, STEREOGUM, and SPIN have praised his multimedia efforts. Notable projects include 2020’s dissertation and musical album “Language Arts Unit: a Rap Textbook” and 2022’s “Grapefruit Radio,” which melded his outré rap, visual art, and absurdist prose. Ever composing and plotting between disciplines, he remains the poet laureate of his living room and has a higher vertical leap than your favorite rapper.

City: Los Angeles, State: California


Imani Cezanne is a Black poet, performer and educator. With a degree in Africana Studies from SFSU, Imani spends her time writing and teaching poetry and creative writing with various schools and literary organizations. In March of 2020 she became the Woman of the World Poetry Slam Champion for the second time and in July of the same year was named a finalist for the Ruth Lilly Fellowship. Imani has work published in poetry journals such as POETRY magazine, Nimrod, Variant Lit and Palette Poetry, among others and has received fellowships from the Hurston/Wright Foundation and Brooklyn Poets. While all are welcome to enjoy her work, Imani writes for Black people, especially Black women, and is committed to the liberation of all oppressed people. 

State: California 

.CHISARAOKWU., MD, MSPH is an Igbo American transdisciplinary poet artist and actor. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from MacDowell, The Poetry Foundation, Cave Canem, The Vermont Studio Center, Headlands Center for the Arts, and more. Inspired by the oral, print, and spiritual archives of West Africa and its diaspora, her art has appeared in many literary journals including Obsidian, Michigan Quarterly Review, Transition, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. A retired pediatrician, she’s working on a debut poetry collection based on interviews with survivors of the genocide committed during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). Learn more at www.chisaraokwu.com.


Atia Sattar is a Pakistani-born emerging poet whose writing explores the embodied intersections of grief, gender, race, and motherhood. Her poetry has appeared in Rogue Agent (Pushcart Nomination), Cathexis Northwest Press, and West Trade Review. Her essays can be found in various publications including Lion’s Roar, Tricycle, Academe, and the Cambridge Quarterly for Health Care Ethics. She is Associate Teaching Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Southern California. 

City: Los Angeles, State: California

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free 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. Learn more at pen.org.

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