PEN American Center

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This is about the PEN Center in New York. For the Center in California, see PEN Center USA
PEN America Center
Free Expression. Literature.
Motto Protecting free expression and celebrating literature[1]
Formation 1922
Type Literary society, human rights organization[1]
Legal status Nonprofit Organization
Purpose Publication, advocacy, literary awards[1]
Headquarters New York, NY, USA
  • New York City, U.S.
Coordinates 40°43′30″N 73°59′50″W / 40.724920°N 73.997163°W / 40.724920; -73.997163
Region served
Eastern Half of USA
Official language
Andrew Solomon[2]
Key people
Board of Trustees[1]
Parent organization
PEN International
Affiliations International Freedom of Expression Exchange

PEN America Center (PEN), founded in 1922 and based in New York City, works to advance literature, defend free expression, and foster international literary fellowship. The Center has a membership of over 4,400 writers, editors, and translators. PEN America Center is the largest of the 149 centers in 101 countries that belong to PEN International, the worldwide association of writers that defends those who are harassed, imprisoned and killed for their views.[1] PEN America Center is one of two PEN centers located in the USA, the other is PEN Center USA in Los Angeles which covers the western United States.

In addition to defending persecuted writers, PEN America Center sponsors public literary programs and forums on current issues, sends prominent authors to inner-city schools to encourage reading and writing, administers literary prizes, offers writing workshops to hundreds of inmates across the country, promotes international literature that might otherwise go unread in the United States, and offers grants and loans to writers facing financial or medical emergencies.

PEN is also a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global network of nongovernmental organizations that monitors free expression violations worldwide and defends journalists, writers, human rights activists and Internet users who are persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.[3]


“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[4]

Full membership in PEN generally requires the publication of one or more books of a literary character, or one or more plays produced in a professional venue. Editors with a career of five years or more are also eligible, as are many publishers, agents, publicists and other members of the literary publishing community. Recently, PEN created an associate tier of membership, which is open to the general public.[5]

Over the years, PEN America Center's membership has included many of the leading figures in the American literary establishment, including Edward Albee, Paul Auster, James Baldwin, Giannina Braschi, Willa Cather, Don DeLillo, Robert Frost, Tony Kushner, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie and John Steinbeck.


PEN World Voices Festival[edit]

Since 2005, each spring PEN America Center has hosted the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature in New York City, which brings renowned writers from around the world together to share ideas, give public readings and talks, and foster debate on literature and freedom of expression. This festival was founded by Salman Rushdie and convenes politically active literary luminaries from around the world such as Paul Auster, Giannina Braschi, Mircea Cărtărescu, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Umberto Eco, Nadine Gordimer, Karl Ove Knausgård, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ian McEwan, Ib Michael, Toni Morrison, Herta Müller, and Orhan Pamuk.[6]

Awards Program[edit]

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama. In collaboration with its partners, PEN America confers over 20 distinct awards, fellowships, grants and prizes each year, awarding nearly $315,000 to writers and translators. These awards seek to honor everyone from emerging writers to leaders in the field, as well as to promote different modes of literary production. The PEN American Center awards have been characterized as being among the "major" literary awards in America.[7]

PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers[edit]

PEN America is a semi-annual literary journal that publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, conversation, criticism, graphic narrative, and more. As a mission it seeks to champion international authors and provide first-hand insight into the minds of contemporary writers through provocative symposia. It was founded in 2000, and named one of that year's "Ten Best New Magazines" by Library Journal. Work from recent issues has been selected for Best American Essays (of The Best American Series) and the Pushcart Prize. Contributors include Paul Auster, Michael Cunningham, Nikki Giovanni, Marilynne Robinson, Salman Rushdie, Susan Sontag, John Edgar Widem, and many others.[8]


PEN Prison Writing Program[edit]

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative and rehabilitative power of writing, by providing hundreds of inmates across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. The program seeks to provide a place for inmates to express themselves freely with paper and pen and to encourage the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power. The program sponsors an annual writing contest, publishes a free handbook for prisoners, provides one-on-one mentoring to inmates whose writing shows merit or promise, conducts workshops for former inmates, and seeks to get inmates' work to the public through literary publications and readings.[9][10]

Consisting of more than seventy mentors working with close to one hundred inmates, the Mentor Program continues to be the most interactive and engaging projects in the Prison Writing Program. Through individual mail correspondence mentors who are Committee members, working writers or MFA students provide careful criticism, tips on craft, and guidance in the fundamentals of grammar to inmates around the country. The program is organized so that each mentor corresponds with the prisoner a minimum of three times. In this way, each prisoner’s writing receives unique professional attention and criticism, while at the same time enabling a prisoner to respond to the mentor’s suggestions and participate in the shaping of his or her work.[11]

The Writers' Emergency Fund[edit]

The PEN Writers’ Emergency Fund is an emergency fund for professional—published or produced—writers in acute, emergency financial crisis. Depending on the situation, the Fund gives grants of up to $2,000. The PEN Fund for Writers and Editors with HIV/AIDS, administered under the PEN Writers’ Emergency Fund, gives grants of up to $2,000 to professional writers and editors who face serious financial difficulties because of HIV or AIDS-related illness. In 2015, the PEN Writers’ Emergency Fund and Fund for Writers and Editors with HIV/AIDS distributed more funds than ever to U.S.-based writers who were facing acute, financial crises, allocating $60,300 to 35 applicants between ages 38 and 85.[12]

Writers at Risk[edit]

PEN’s bedrock work is long-term advocacy on behalf of individual writers who are being persecuted because of their work. With help from its members and supporters, PEN carries out campaigns to win their release and ensure they are safe and can write and publish freely. They send letters to the governments concerned and lobby their own governments to campaign for the release of detained writers and for investigations in cases of torture and killings. Through writing to the families and, where possible, directly to prisoners, they provide encouragement and hope, as well as helping to obtain updated information which continues to shine a spotlight on egregious violations of the right to freedom of expression.[13]

Artists at Risk Coalition[edit]

In keeping with PEN's longstanding Writers at Risk program, its newly founded Artists at Risk Coalition (ARC) extends this support to artists of all definitions, encompassing writers, cartoonists, visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, and performance artists, as well as other individuals who produce significant creative output. Under the belief that artists play a critical role in society, the ARC—with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—aims to create a global network of organizations and resources to ensure that when artists are threatened or in peril, they will have place to turn for immediate help and resources. The program is designed in response to a background study conducted by PEN America in 2015 to explore possible ways to enhance support for individual artists at risk. This survey revealed a number of challenges in the current landscape of support, which ARC aims to address accordingly.[14]

The M Word[edit]

In response to the rhetoric and high-profile hate crimes surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in August 2016 PEN America launched a groundbreaking program to elevate, amplify, and celebrate the voices of Muslim Americans in popular discourse. The series is underwritten by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges Program and seeks to provide a platform for Muslim American writers and cultural figures to address audiences on their own terms -- highlighting the art forms, narratives and identities that influence their work -- and to challenge the prevailing narrow representations of highly diverse Muslim communities composed of more than three million Americans.

The series launched September 21, 2016 with comedians in conversation at Joe's Pub, the beloved dinner club at the Public Theater. 'The M Word: Muslim Comedians on the Right to Joke' featured prominent comedians such as Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show and director and author Negin Farad. The inaugural event was moderated by award-winning playwright, New York Times contributor, and television host Wajahat Ali.[15]

Combatting Censorship[edit]

Involvement in theater[edit]

PEN America Center along with The American Civil Liberties Union and the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented a special performance of "Reckoning With Torture: Memos and Testimonies From the 'War on Terror'" on May 24, 2011 at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. The performance was directed by Doug Liman, and was focused on featuring readings from formerly secret government documents and videos, that shone a light on the scope and human cost of the Post 9/11 torture program.[16]

Children's/Young Adult Book Authors Committee[edit]

PEN’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Authors support writers and librarians whose books have been banned or challenged. The committee meets monthly to discuss topics such as censorship and diversity, as well as other matters affecting writers of children's literature. The committee supports authors whose books have been challenged, sponsors school visits in New Orleans and NYC, plans public programs, and administers PEN’s children’s and YA awards.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "About PEN America Center". 
  2. ^ "Andrew Solomon Named President of PEN American Center". New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Members of IFEX". Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Membership - PEN America". PEN America. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  5. ^ "PEN Membership for General Public". Waldorf College. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  6. ^ Taylor, Kate (February 23, 2011). "PEN World Voices Festival Announces Lineup". NY Times Blog. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  7. ^ Bendixen, Alfred (2005). "Literary Prizes and Awards". The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 689. 
  8. ^ PEN America Journal
  9. ^
  10. ^ "PEN's Prison Writing Program". Little Patuxent Review. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Mentoring Program - PEN America". PEN America. 2012-12-03. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  12. ^ "Writers' Emergency Fund - PEN America". PEN America. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  13. ^ "Writers At Risk - PEN America". PEN America. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  14. ^ "FAQ: Artists at Risk Coalition (ARC) - PEN America". PEN America. 2016-10-20. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  15. ^ "The Daily Show's Hasan Minhaj to Launch New PEN America Series on Muslim Identity - PEN America". PEN America. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  16. ^ "Theater performance & reading focused on Post 9/11 torture program". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Children's and Young Adult Book Authors - PEN America". PEN America. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 

External links[edit]