Jump to content

PEN America

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from PEN American Center)

PEN America
Formation1922; 102 years ago (1922)
TypeLiterary society, human rights organization[1]
Legal statusNonprofit organization
PurposePublication, advocacy, literary awards[1]
HeadquartersNew York, New York, US
  • New York City, U.S.
Coordinates40°43′30″N 73°59′50″W / 40.724920°N 73.997163°W / 40.724920; -73.997163
Official language
Suzanne Nossel
Jennifer Finney Boylan[2]
Key people
Board of Trustees[1]
Parent organization
PEN International
AffiliationsInternational Freedom of Expression Exchange
Websitepen.org Edit this at Wikidata

PEN America (formerly PEN American Center), founded in 1922,[3] and headquartered in New York City, is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to raise awareness for the protection of free expression in the United States and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights. PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 PEN centers worldwide that together compose PEN International.[1] PEN America has offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and since late 2023 also in Florida.[4]

PEN America's advocacy includes work on educational censorship,[5] press freedom and the safety of writers, campus free speech, online harassment, artistic freedom, and support to regions of the world with challenges to freedom of expression.[6] PEN America also campaigns for individual writers and journalists who have been imprisoned or come under threat for their work and annually presents the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.[7]

PEN America hosts public programming and events on literature and human rights, including the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature and the annual PEN America Literary Awards, sometimes referred to as the "Oscars of Books."[8][9] PEN America also works to amplify underrepresented voices, including emerging authors and writers who are undocumented, incarcerated,[10] or face obstacles in reaching audiences.[11]

The organization's name was conceived as an acronym: Poets, Essayists, Novelists (later broadened to Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists). As membership expanded to include a more diverse range of people involved in literature and freedom of expression, the name ceased to be an acronym in the United States.[1]

PEN America celebrated its centenary in 2022 with an event featuring authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and Dave Eggers; an exhibition at the New York Historical Society;[12] and a large light-projection by the artist Jenny Holzer at the Rockefeller Center.[13][14]


The 1986 PEN congress: (left to right) John Updike, Norman Mailer, E. L. Doctorow

PEN America was formed on April 19, 1922, in New York City, and included among its initial members writers such as Willa Cather, Eugene O'Neill, Robert Frost, Ellen Glasgow, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Robert Benchley. Booth Tarkington served as the organization's first president.[1]

PEN America's founding came after the launch of PEN International in 1921 in London[3] by Catherine Amy Dawson-Scott, a British poet, playwright, and peace activist, who enlisted John Galsworthy as PEN International's first president. The intent of PEN International was to foster international literary fellowship among writers that would transcend national and ethnic divides in the wake of World War I.[1] PEN America subscribes to the principles outlined in the PEN International Charter.[15]

PEN America presidents have included current president Jennifer Finney Boylan, Ayad Akhtar, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Louis Begley, Ron Chernow, Joel Conarroe, Jennifer Egan, Frances FitzGerald, Peter Godwin, Francine Prose, Salman Rushdie, Michael Scammell, and Andrew Solomon.[16]

In 2018, the organization filed suit against President Trump for allegedly using the powers of his office to retaliate against unfavorable reporting.[17] In 2023, it filed suit against the school district in Escambia County, Florida, over book bans, joined by publisher Penguin Random House, several banned authors, and parents in the district.[18]

As of June 2022, PEN America staff announced their intention to unionize. The Los Angeles Times reported that workers unionized with Unit of Work, a venture capitalist startup to help workers unionize, and that PEN America recognized the union the day after it was announced.[19]


MEMBERS OF PEN pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members also pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts for political and personal ends. – from PEN's Founding Charter, New York City, 1922.[20]

Full membership in PEN America generally requires being a published writer with at least one work professionally published, or being a translator, agent, editor, or other publishing professional. There is also a "reader" tier of membership open to supporters from the general public, as well as a "student" membership.[21]

Notable members of PEN America past and present include: Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Edward Albee, Maya Angelou, Paul Auster, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Giannina Braschi, Teju Cole, Don DeLillo, E.L. Doctorow, Roxane Gay, Langston Hughes, Barbara Kingsolver, Norman Mailer, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Toni Morrison, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Lynn Nottage, Grace Paley, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Richard Russo, Sam Shepard, Susan Sontag, John Steinbeck, Elizabeth Strout, Anne Tyler, and Colson Whitehead.[1]

PEN Board of Trustees[edit]

The PEN America Board of Trustees is composed of writers, artists, and leaders in the fields of publishing, media, technology, law, finance, human rights, and philanthropy.

Jennifer Finney Boylan, author and LGBTQ rights advocate, became president of PEN America on December 11, 2023,[22] succeeding Ayad Akhtar, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize who was named president December 2, 2020, and Jennifer Egan, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the 2018 Carnegie Medal for literary excellence, who became president in 2018.[23] Other members of the Board of Trustees Executive Committee are: Vice President Ayad Akhtar, Executive Vice President and Interim Treasurer Markus Dohle, Vice President Tracy Higgins, Roxanne Donovan, Michael Pietsch, and Marvin S. Putnam. [24]

Additional trustees are: Marie Arana, Peter Barbey, John Chao, Susan Choi, Bridget Colman, Patricia Duff, Lauren Embrey, Patricia Fili-Krushel, James Hannaham, Tom Healy, Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, Linda E. Johnson, Zachary Karabell, Sean Kelly, Min Jin Lee, Franklin Leonard, Margo Lowy, Margaret Munzer Loeb, Dinaw Mengestu, Ken Miller, Wesley Morris, Paul Muldoon, Lynn Nottage, George Packer, Alix Ritchie, Anya Salama, Richard Sarnoff, Andrew Solomon, Luis Alberto Urrea, Suzy Wahba, Tara Westover, and Jamie Wolf. Ex-Officio Trustees are Krystyna Poray Goddu and Allison Markin Powell. [24]

The Chief Executive Officer of PEN America is Suzanne Nossel.[24]


PEN America holds multiple events in the United States throughout the year with the goal of celebrating literature in multiple forms. Many feature prominent authors who appear at festivals and on panel discussions, give lectures, and are featured at PEN America's Authors' Evenings. As a part of its work, PEN America also gives recognition to emerging writers, recognizing them through PEN America's Literary Awards or bringing them to new audiences at public events. Among them are: Hermione Hoby, Morgan Jerkins, Crystal Hana Kim, Alice Sola Kim, Lisa Ko, Layli Long Soldier, Carmen Maria Machado, Darnell L. Moore, Alexis Okeowo, Helen Oyeyemi, Tommy Pico, Jenny Zhang, and Ibi Zoboi.[1]

PEN World Voices Festival[edit]

The PEN World Voices Festival is a week-long series of events in New York City hosted by PEN America each spring. It is the largest international literary festival in the United States, and the only one with a human rights focus. The festival was founded by Salman Rushdie in the aftermath of September 11 Attacks, with the aim of broadening channels of dialogue between the United States and the world.[25]

Notable guests have included: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Samantha Bee, Giannina Braschi, Carrie Brownstein, Ron Chernow, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Teju Cole, E. L. Doctorow, Dave Eggers, Roxane Gay, Masha Gessen, John Irving, Marlon James, Saeed Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ottessa Moshfegh, Hasan Minaj, Sean Penn, Cecile Richards, Salman Rushdie, Gabourey Sidibe, Patti Smith, Zadie Smith, Andrew Solomon, Pia Tafdrup, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Colm Toibin, Amor Towles, and Colson Whitehead.[25][26]

PEN America Literary Awards[edit]

The PEN America Literary Awards annually honor outstanding voices in literature across genres, including fiction, poetry, drama, science and writing, essays, biography, and children's literature. PEN America confers 11 awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes each year, presenting nearly US$350,000 to writers and translators.[9]

The US$75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award is currently the top award given by PEN America,[27] and among the largest literary prizes in the United States.[28] Among other awards conferred are the US$25,000 PEN/Hemingway Award for a Debut Novel, the US$25,000 PEN/Bingham Award for a Debut Short Story Collection, and the US$10,000 PEN/Open Book Award for new books by writers of color.[27]

PEN America Literary Gala and PEN America Los Angeles Gala[edit]

The PEN America Literary Gala in New York and PEN America Los Angeles Gala are annual events celebrating free expression and the literary arts. These events include tributes and calls to action to audiences of authors, screenwriters, producers, executives, philanthropists, actors, and other devotees of the written word. Honorees have included Salman Rushdie, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood. Celebrated writers serve as Literary Hosts for the events.[29][30]

PEN America Prison and Justice Writing Program[edit]

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program provides hundreds of inmates across the country with writing resources and audiences for their work. The program sponsors an annual writing contest, publishes a free writing handbook for prisoners, provides one-on-one mentoring to inmates whose writing shows promise, and seeks to bring inmates' work to the public through literary events, readings, and publications. PEN America also provides assistance to other prison writing initiatives around the country and offers a Writing for Justice Fellowship for writers inside and outside of prison seeking to advance the conversation around the challenges of mass incarceration through creative expression.[31]

Support to writers[edit]

The PEN Writers' Emergency Fund assists professional writers in acute, emergency financial crisis.[32] PEN America Membership committees focus on the interests of literary professionals in different fields and include the Translation Committee and the Children and Young Adult Book Authors Committee.[33][34] The Emerging Voices Fellowship is a literary mentorship that aims to provide new writers who are isolated from the literary establishment with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to launch a professional writing career.[35] The DREAMing Out Loud program helps aspiring migrant writers.[36] PEN America also has offered workshops that nurture the writing skills of domestic workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, and others wage earners.[1]


PEN America has several periodic publications. They include the Prison Writing Awards Anthology featuring winning entries from the annual contest for incarcerated authors, and PEN America Best Debut Short Stories, a yearly anthology of fiction by the recipients of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers.[37]

Free Expression[edit]

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 research and reports on topical issues, advocacy internationally and in the United States, and campaigns on policy issues and on behalf of individual writers and journalists under threat.[1]

Free Expression and Education[edit]

After 2020, PEN America increasingly focused on tracking book bans,[38] including with its annual Banned in the USA report[39] and educational censorship in public schools and higher education, including "educational gag order" bills.[40] In 2023, PEN America, along with publisher Penguin Random House and several banned authors, and parents, filed suit against the Escambia County School District, claiming that book bans violate Constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.[41] The organization also hosts regular Free Speech Advocacy Institutes to train young people to advocate for free speech.[42]

Writers at Risk[edit]

PEN America's work is sustained advocacy on behalf of individual writers and journalists who are being persecuted because of their work. With help from its members and supporters, PEN America carries out campaigns to ensure the freedom, safety, and ability to write and publish without constraint. Advocacy is conducted from PEN America's Washington, D.C., office, as well as through national and international campaigns, events, reports, and delegations. The organization publishes an index of threats to writers[43] and gives out an annual Freedom to Write award.[44] PEN America also focuses on countries and regions where free expression is under particular challenge, including China, Myanmar, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Central Asia.[45]

Press Freedom and Disinformation[edit]

PEN America monitors the freedom of the press and safety of journalists in the United States and internationally. PEN America also focuses on issues of fraudulent news and media literacy, and has produced an in-depth report, "Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth", alongside its "News Consumers Bill of Rights and Responsibilities."[46] Current work focuses on how to fight disinformation ahead of the 2024 presidential election, with particular focus on Florida, Texas, and Arizona.[47]

Campus Free Speech[edit]

PEN America has a focus on issues surrounding free speech at colleges and universities and seeks to raise awareness of the First Amendment and foster constructive dialogue that upholds the free speech rights of all on campus.[48] This work includes the "PEN America Principles on Campus Free Speech", and the report "And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities".[49]

Digital Safety and Online Abuse[edit]

In April 2018, PEN America launched the Online Harassment Field Manual in an effort to aid writers and journalists who must navigate online spaces by providing resources, tools, and tips to help them respond safely and effectively to incidents of online harassment and hateful speech.[50] PEN America also leads workshops to equip writers, journalists, and all those active online with tools and tactics to defend against hateful speech and trolling.

Artists at Risk Connection[edit]

The Artists at Risk Connection is an international hub of more than 800 organizations working to protect artistic freedom around the world by improving access to resources for artists at risk, raising awareness of the threats, and enhancing connections among supporters of artistic freedom. This program extends support to artists of all kinds, encompassing writers, cartoonists, visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, and performance artists, as well as other individuals who produce significant creative output.[51]


War in Gaza[edit]

Several authors have requested that their names be removed from PEN referring to dissatisfaction with the organization's position regarding the Gaza war; among them were Camonghne Felix nominated by Jean Stein, Eugenia Leigh a poetry finalist and Ghassan Zeineddine nominated for a short story. In a letter signed by Naomi Klein, Lorrie Moore, and dozens of others protested that PEN had not “launched any substantial coordinated support” for Palestinians.

Chris Hedges reports in his The Chris Hedges Report website in March 2024, "In May 2013 I resigned from PEN America over the appointment of former State Department official Suzanne Nossel." And "[PEN's] refusal to condemn the genocide in Gaza and Israel’s targeted killings of writers, academics and journalists, has seen numerous writers withdraw from the annual PEN World Voices Festival in New York and Los Angeles, scheduled for April and May."


PEN America has canceled its World Voices festival after twenty-eight of the 61 nominated authors withdrew their books from consideration in the annual PEN America Awards ceremony as they condemned America's Pen for failing to strongly condemn what they called the genocide in Palestine. The cancellation comes days after the organization canceled the 2024 annual awards festival. The festival was supposed to be held on May 8 in New York City and Los Angeles.[52]


Alex N. Press reports in Jacobin, May 01, 2024, "'PEN America management’s recent actions reflect what is becoming an appalling pattern of blatant disrespect towards its unionized staff,' said the union in a statement." And "The union has also filed two unfair labor practices (ULP) against PEN America with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The ULPs concern workers’ just-cause and labor-management committee proposals: workers say the company engaged in 'regressive bargaining' with both proposals, meaning they offered less than they had previously, after bringing on Tanya Khan from Kauff McGuire & Margolis, a union-busting law firm, late last year."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "About Us". pen.org. PEN America. September 20, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  2. ^ Harris, Elizabeth A. (December 11, 2023). "Jennifer Finney Boylan to Lead PEN America". The New York TImes. Retrieved December 11, 2023.
  3. ^ a b "PEN America at 100: Writers' organization shares treasures at the New-York Historical Society". Our Town. July 29, 2022. Retrieved August 14, 2022.
  4. ^ Maher, John (November 14, 2023). "PEN America Will Open an Office in Florida". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved November 19, 2023.
  5. ^ "Educational Censorship". PEN America. August 17, 2022. Retrieved July 7, 2023.
  6. ^ "Free Expression Focus Issues". pen.org. PEN America. December 12, 2017. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  7. ^ "PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award". pen.org. PEN America. May 15, 2018. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  8. ^ "Inside the "Oscars for Books," the PEN America Literary Awards". Vanity Fair. March 6, 2023. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  9. ^ a b "Literary Awards". pen.org. PEN America. September 20, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  10. ^ "Readings from the 2022 PEN America Prison Writing Awards Anthology". Literary Hub. May 12, 2023. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  11. ^ "Prison & Justice Writing". pen.org. PEN America. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  12. ^ Nawotka |, Ed. "PEN America Marks 100 Years". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  13. ^ Sutton, Benjamin (September 16, 2022). "Jenny Holzer projection takes over Rockefeller Center in support of freedom of expression". The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. Retrieved December 24, 2023.
  14. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (September 13, 2022). "At PEN America, a Complicated Centennial for Free Speech". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  15. ^ "PEN Charter – PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  16. ^ "Freedom to Read Statement, Drafted 70 Years Ago, Is Vital Today in a New Time of Censorship". PEN America. June 25, 2023. Retrieved July 7, 2023.
  17. ^ "PEN America Lauds Settlement in Press Freedom Lawsuit". VOA. March 3, 2021. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  18. ^ Chavez, Nicole (May 17, 2023). "Penguin Random House, advocates and authors sue Florida school district over book bans". CNN. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  19. ^ Dean, Sam (August 12, 2022). "The organized labor movement has a new ally: venture capitalists". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 14, 2022.
  20. ^ "Membership - PEN America". PEN America. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  21. ^ "Membership - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  22. ^ "Author and LGBTQ Rights Advocate Jennifer Finney Boylan Elected President of PEN America". PEN America. December 11, 2023. Retrieved February 26, 2024.
  23. ^ "Ayad Akhtar named new PEN American president". ABC News. September 8, 2020. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  24. ^ a b c "Current Board of Trustees". pen.org. PEN America. September 20, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  25. ^ a b "PEN World Voices Festival". pen.org. PEN America. December 2, 2014. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  26. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (February 27, 2018). "Hillary Clinton to Speak at PEN World Voices Festival". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 14, 2022.
  27. ^ a b "Awards - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  28. ^ Schaub, Michael (July 20, 2016). "PEN America launches $75,000 book prize, one of the country's biggest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  29. ^ "Literary Gala - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  30. ^ "LitFest Gala - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  31. ^ "Prison & Justice Writing - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  32. ^ "Writers' Emergency Fund - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  33. ^ "Translation Committee - PEN America". pen.org. September 20, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  34. ^ "Children's and Young Adult Book Authors - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  35. ^ "Emerging Voices Fellowship - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  36. ^ "DREAMing Out Loud: Visualizing the Stories of Student DREAMers". PEN America. April 6, 2018. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  37. ^ "Publications". pen.org. PEN America. December 28, 2017. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  38. ^ "New Report Finds That Book Bans Have Reached Their Highest Levels Yet". Time. April 20, 2023. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  39. ^ "2023 Banned Books Update: Banned in the USA". PEN America. April 20, 2023. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  40. ^ "Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedom to Read, Learn, and Teach". PEN America. November 8, 2021. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  41. ^ Nguyen, Sophia (May 18, 2023). "PEN America and Penguin Random House sue Florida school district over book bans". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  42. ^ "Next Gen PEN America". PEN America. July 28, 2022. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  43. ^ Anderson, Porter (April 27, 2023). "The New Freedom To Write Index: 311 Imprisoned". Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  44. ^ "Imprisoned Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi to receive PEN America's Freedom to Write Award". AP News. May 15, 2023. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  45. ^ "Writers At Risk - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  46. ^ "Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth". pen.org. October 12, 2017. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  47. ^ "About Us - What Is PEN America". PEN America. September 20, 2016. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  48. ^ "Campus Speech - PEN America". pen.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  49. ^ "And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities - PEN America". pen.org. October 17, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  50. ^ "Online Harassment Field Manual". onlineharassmentfieldmanual.pen.org. April 13, 2018. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  51. ^ "ARC – Artists at Risk Connection". artistsatriskconnection.org. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  52. ^ Oladipo, Gloria (April 26, 2024). "PEN America cancels festival after authors drop out in support of Gaza". The Guardian.

External links[edit]