Steven L. Isenberg’s Letter of Resignation
To: Peter Godwin
cc: The Board of Trustees
I wish to inform the Board that I will be leaving at the end of this year. I write now to give ample time for the search for my successor and to ensure a smooth, effective transition.
By year’s end, PEN American Center will have finished celebrating its 90th anniversary, and I will be 72. Taking that together with the strength of our accomplishments, the course that we have set, and our staff’s readiness for the future, I am confident that my decision is right not only for me, but also for PEN.
We can look back over these last three years with great satisfaction, especially in how we met the times with energy and resolve, including the economic uncertainty which continues.
- We have had exceptional success in winning support for our Freedom to Write Program from the Open Society Foundations, the Ford Foundation and most recently from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation. Our travels to China, Russia, Mexico, Haiti—and soon, South Africa–have come at moments of significance to the cause of freedom of expression, as did our appearance at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, and our role in advocating for the Nobel Prize for Liu Xiaobo, a campaign that was praised by Chinese political prisoner and friend of Liu Xiaobo, Yang Jianli: “Your outstanding work has inspired many Chinese freedom fighters like Mr. Liu and myself. Your brilliant efforts in “Free Liu Xiaobo” are truly admirable and indispensible to our cause.”
We brought research, testimony and conviction to our nation’s conscience by calling attention to the instances of torture that stained our response to the attacks of September 11th. Bill Moyers’ show Sunday night amplified the reach of our Reckoning With Torture program and highlighted the work that is yet to be done.
- Of importance to all we do and the way of the future is the exciting prospect for new capabilities and content on our website when the upgrade is completed this fall. The redeveloped website will be a center of communication, publishing and archival resources that will enhance all our programs. Just last week we received a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to aid in the preservation and digitization of PEN’s archival materials. This is a tremendous opportunity to understand the reach and content of PEN’s archives and begin the planning process to make available on our website the extraordinary materials accumulated over PEN’s 90-year history. Adding in new activity in social media, our electronic presence will foster greater involvement for our members and all who are interested in PEN’s calling, thereby enlarging our community and connections, here and internationally. This investment in our website upgrade has been made possible by generous grants from the Carnegie Foundation, Google and two loyal Board members.
- Our literary identity, devotion to literature, and international ties to PEN centers around the world make us distinctive in the human rights community.
- Our unique and vibrant World Voices Festival, Translation Fund, Literary Awards, Prison Writing, Readers and Writers Program in partnership with schools and the PEN Journal each play their part, as do many member-driven committees, which continue to thrive on the imagination and goodwill of writers who give of their time in sustaining the literary tradition that makes possible all we do.
- Every single PEN program has its generous and kind friends and supporters–individuals, families, companies and foundations. From the Gala to the annual appeal to Authors’ Evenings, our benefactors have carried us to new achievements. And every program at PEN has benefited from the extraordinary support of the Kaplen Foundation, for whom special praise and gratitude is deserved in the largest measure.
- And in redefining our membership qualifications and reinvigorating our sign-up efforts, in the establishment of new bylaws and improved governance, and in the fostering of the kind of managerial agility non profits must strive for, we have made our mark and provided balance and focus for PEN as we head toward PEN’s 100th anniversary.
All of this comes of a staff wonderfully committed to PEN’s purposes and to their work as professionals in its cause. They distinguish themselves and PEN’s reputation by their character, idealism and industry.
So too, among our present and former Board of Trustees, Advisory Council, ex-presidents and membership, there are so many whose dedication, participation and generosity help PEN maintain its special place.
And from all my working years and these last three, there are friends old and new, who have given me encouraging and kind support.
I have served with two presidents, Anthony Appiah and you, and I know that PEN is all the better for your presence and involvement. We have several months more together, and I know we will continue to make new achievements and position PEN for the future.
I am grateful for what PEN has taught me and I will always be at its side, as must be all who know PEN’s special qualities, and what it stands for, especially in the times in which we now live.