Michelle Franke posing with Samantha Dunn, Alexander Chee, and Nell Scovell

Michelle Franke (second from left) with authors Samantha Dunn, Alexander Chee, and Nell Scovell at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

I am writing with the bittersweet news that after a remarkable combined thirteen year tenure with PEN Center USA and PEN America in Los Angeles, Michelle Franke will be stepping down from her role on October 8 to become Executive Director of Humanitas, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles that supports and celebrates screen and television writers.

Michelle has been a valued leader, advancing PEN America’s mission through her work as Director of Programs and Events and then Executive Director at PEN Center USA and, since 2018, as Executive Director for PEN Los Angeles, leading the office through the unification and during the pandemic.

In the three years since PEN America Los Angeles was established, Michelle and her team have worked to build support for PEN America’s work in Southern California, developed the signature LitFest Gala with extraordinary honorees, built new programs and initiatives, elevated our free expression work within the Los Angeles region, and forged important partnerships with California art institutions. She has expanded our PEN Out Loud and World Voices Festival literary programs to the West Coast, overseen the relaunch of the Emerging Voices Fellowship, built a foundation for a coalition of literary groups in Southern California, and more.

Michelle’s leadership in the Los Angeles literary community has extended well beyond her work with PEN Center USA and PEN America, including her 8-years at the helm of The Rattling Wall literary journal, and her many years as creative writing educator, programmer, and bookseller. Her investment in the literary arts continues to touch the lives of hundreds of readers, writers, students, and literary community members throughout Southern California and beyond.

Michelle has been a treasured colleague and leader, offering wisdom, sound judgement, an open ear and a perpetual willingness to innovate, experiment and find new ways to drive our mission forward. We would not be the national organization we are without her.

Plans for a smooth transition for our Los Angeles work are underway, and we look forward to opportunities to gather together as the pandemic hopefully gradually recedes. Jenn Dees, our seasoned and accomplished Los Angeles Programs Director, will serve as interim head of the office while we conduct a search for a new leader positioned to take forward our programming, outreach, free expression advocacy and membership engagement in Los Angeles. Jenn can be reached at jdees@pen.org and will be working to keep you informed on our work and progress. Please keep an eye out at pen.org for our Los Angeles job posting, we would love your help spreading the word.

Please join me in congratulating and thanking Michelle for her exceptional contributions to the work of PEN America and the literary community in Los Angeles!

My best,

Suzanne Nossel
PEN America CEO