NEW YORK—PEN America has hired Thomas O. Melia as its Washington Director, effective May 1, 2018.  Working with Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel and other PEN America executives, Melia will lead the organization’s advocacy efforts in the Nation’s capital.

Melia served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, responsible for Europe & Eurasia, south and central Asia, and the Middle East. He also served as Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) until January 2017.  Recently, Melia has been Visiting Professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Service and a Fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, helping to lead a bipartisan initiative to reinvigorate American leadership in defense of human rights and democracy at home and abroad. He is also a monthly columnist for The American Interest.

In this new role, Mr. Melia will set PEN America’s U.S. advocacy agenda, engage with policymakers to promote and defend free expression rights in the U.S. and around the world, advocate for policies that celebrate literature, the arts, and the cross-cultural exchange of ideas and perspectives, and forge and fortify coalitions with like-minded organizations.

“We are thrilled to welcome Tom Melia to spearhead our efforts in Washington at this pivotal time,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “His experience on the Hill and as a proven leader in government and civil society will be instrumental to raising the voices of our national membership and international partners in defense of press freedom, open discourse, and the role of truth and facts in our national debate. His vast policy expertise, track record of accomplishment and sweeping network bring credibility and clout from day one.”  

Thomas Melia is chair of the board of directors of the Project on Middle East Democracy. He has also served as Executive Director of Democracy International, Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House, Vice President of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and associate director of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center.  He began his career in Washington as a legislative assistant to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).

“As the most senior officials in the U.S. government challenge previously settled norms about the role of independent voices in our political and social discourse, while the administration seeks to reduce the American commitment to advancing fundamental rights around the world, civil society organizations such as PEN America must step forward,” said Melia. “I look forward to leading the advocacy efforts of a growing organization with an ambitious and ever-important mission.”

Established in 1922 in New York City, PEN America has fortified its Washington, D.C. presence to defend free speech and confront daily threats to free expression, a task that becomes more urgent each day. PEN America has been at the forefront on issues that threaten open, diverse discourse, including leading more than 30 arts and culture organizations in filing an amicus brief against the Trump administration’s travel ban in Hawaii v. Trump; leading advocacy to restore funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities; and publishing a major report on fraudulent news and the threat it poses to free expression. 

You can follow Thomas Melia at @thomasomelia


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.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: