Director, U.S. Free Expression Programs

NOTE: Applications must be submitted through On-Ramps.

PEN America stands at the intersection of writing 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. PEN America delivers thought leadership, research, advocacy, public programming and a range of other initiatives in the United States and globally to protect freedom of expression and promote open, inclusive discourse. Our membership, a nationwide community of more than 7,500 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, poets, playwrights, and other writing professionals as well as devoted readers, joins with our allies and our dynamic, expert staff of experts to carry out PEN America’s catalytic mission.

PEN America’s Free Expression Programs defend writers and journalists and protect free expression rights in the United States and around the world. This work includes in-depth research reports and briefing papers on topical issues ranging from “educational gag orders,” protest rights, and disinformation to the state of creative expression in countries such as Turkey and Myanmar; advocacy internationally and in the United States to defend against threats to free expression; and campaigns on policy issues and on behalf of individual writers and journalists under threat.

Learn more about PEN America’s work at:


The Director, U.S. Free Expression will play a critical role in leveraging an existing body of work and developing new initiatives to spearhead PEN America’s work on critical threats to free speech that are polarizing our society and eroding American democracy. Reporting to the Senior Director, Free Expression Programs, the Director will lead PEN America’s advocacy, campaigning, and legal work on First Amendment and related free expression issues in the United States. This role will conduct legal analysis and oversee involvement in litigation; participate in and build coalitions and engage partners; represent PEN America publicly; identify research opportunities; shape and guide projects; supervise staff, interns, and consultants; work collaboratively across the Free Expression Programs team and organization as a whole; and otherwise build a thriving, high-profile program with significant impact. 

This is an exciting leadership opportunity for a visionary program builder who thrives in fast-paced environments to drive forward PEN America’s work in collaboration with expert free expression colleagues and supported by an expanding organizational backbone of communications, fundraising, and operations teams. Key to success will be developing strategic, signature interventions through which PEN America can make a difference in countering the threats to free expression and democracy that face the United States today and will challenge it in the years to come.

Responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

Program Management:

  • Lead PEN America’s advocacy agenda on U.S. free expression issues. These include the impact of disinformation on free expression and democratic discourse in the United States; press freedom; the future of journalism, including bolstering the local news industry; protest rights; and fostering a culture of free expression and defending democratic discourse. Identify and respond to emerging free expression threats, including those that will test democratic rights during the 2022 and 2024 election cycles. Identify opportunities for and develop new initiatives, programs, and campaigns.
  • Conduct legal analysis of existing laws and pending state legislation and, in conjunction with our Washington, D.C., team on the federal level. Identify opportunities for legal action and advocacy in support of PEN America’s Free Expression Programs writ large, including expanding and overseeing PEN America’s role in free expression-related litigation.
  • Formulate, analyze, and communicate the organization’s policy positions on U.S. free expression and First Amendment issues, in coordination with other Free Expression Programs staff.
  • Draft written products (e.g. policy papers, press releases, op-eds) relating to a range of free expression issues, as well as legal and legislative material.
  • Develop and implement advocacy campaigns on strategic issues, including mobilizing PEN America’s chapters and membership across the country.

Stakeholder Management:

  • Cultivate and expand working relationships, coalitions, and partnerships with nonprofit organizations, think tanks, academics, and other key stakeholders working on free expression and democracy in the U.S.
  • Represent PEN America publicly with policymakers, partners and coalitions, the media, and through public speaking at events and conferences.
  • Identify and cultivate funding opportunities through grant writing and management, and relationship building with donors.
  • Work in close collaboration with and with additive benefit to PEN America’s Washington office, free expression and education program, and digital freedom program, and with the membership and national engagement team to engage constituencies across the country to respond to local and state-level threats to free expression.


  • A minimum of approximately six to eight years of relevant experience, including in public advocacy, free speech, civil liberties, press freedom, and/or related areas.
  • Strong academic, legal, and practical expertise on First Amendment and free expression issues in the United States; J.D. is strongly preferred but not required.
  • Incisive, nuanced thinking on issues of free expression and the ability to share this analysis persuasively in a range of internal and external settings.
  • Demonstrated leadership and program building success, including in effective fundraising and constituency building. A track record for developing and executing innovative and effective advocacy and campaigning.
  • Demonstrated ability to network, build external relationships, and mobilize coalitions.
  • Exceptional writing skills, including the ability to write quickly and powerfully; legislative drafting experience a plus.
  • Exceptional oral communication skills, including significant experience with public-facing presentations and engagement, including public speaking and media engagement.
  • Formidable work ethic, drive, attention to detail, and ability to multitask.
  • Collegiality and well-developed interpersonal skills. Management experience preferred.
  • A commitment to and passion for PEN America’s mission.

Salary and Benefits: PEN America offers competitive compensation and benefits, commensurate with experience.

To Apply:

Note: applications must be submitted through On-Ramps.

PEN America is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate in its hiring practices, and in order to build the strongest possible workforce, actively seeks a diverse applicant pool.

No phone calls, please.

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.