What do you know about PEN?

Dear Kevin,

This week we celebrated the excellent news that one of our 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees, scholar and writer Eman Al-Nafjan, has been granted temporary release within just two weeks of our announcement of the Award, which received wide global coverage. We announced plans to honor Al-Nafjan, Loujain Al-Hathlouland Nouf Abdulaziz, three women writers and activists at the forefront of protesting Saudi Arabia’s abuses of women’s rights, with the Award, which is presented each year to imprisoned writers at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala. Each time we give the Award we contemplate what would happen were our honorees to be released before the Gala—this is the first time in decades it has actually occurred and the news sent a cheer throughout our office. We issued this statement calling for all charges to be dropped against our honorees and those similarly accused, and for them to be granted immediate and permanent freedom. In our work together to secure the freedom of imprisoned writers there are never enough moments of celebration—I hope you will enjoy this one with us.Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020With Facebook and the world coming to new depths of awareness of how weaponized online speech can catalyze deadly action, PEN America is working to navigate the tension between robust protections for free speech, and the need to prevent our prime arena of public discourse from descending into bigotry and falsehood. PEN America’s just-released research report Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020 issues a forceful warning about the risk of fraudulent news and online disinformation becoming a normalized part of U.S. political campaigns. The report analyzes counter efforts during the 2018 midterm election cycle—and it stresses the importance of social media platforms, candidates, and political parties dramatically stepping up efforts to keep fraudulent news from polluting the 2020 election cycle. Truth on the Ballot contains a first-of-its-kind Model Pledge Against Fraudulent News, a call to action for candidates and political parties to denounce fraudulent news and disinformation, and forswear its use.The Trump Administration’s decision last week to issue an Executive Order addressing free speech on at U.S. universities was a vivid reminder of why PEN America decided three years ago to prioritize an enlightened defense of open expression on campus. Our seminal work in this area, including a reportwhite paper, series of convenings, public appearances, Congressional testimony, and more positioned PEN America as a leading voice stressing that the imperatives of diversity, inclusion, and equality on campus need not be pitted against robust protections for free speech and academic freedom. We weighed in ahead of time on where the President’s proposed Order could go wrong, and shaped reaction to a measure that was more tempered than it might have been, but still poses risks. Stay tuned for more analysis and commentary on campus speech in the coming days.Arundhati Roy delivers the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture at the 2019 PEN World Voices FestivalWe’ve just announced that the 2019 PEN Courage Award will be presented to legal scholar Anita Hill for a lifetime dedicated to equal rights advocacy that continues today with her role as the chair of the Hollywood entertainment industry’s Commission to Eliminate Sexual Harassment and Advance Equality in the Workplace. She will be recognized along with author and journalist Bob Woodwardand Richard Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of Scholastic. John Oliver will serve as the Master of Ceremonies.Also just announced is the 15th edition of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature May 6-12 in New York City. On the slate are more than 125 writers and artists representing 50-plus nationalities who will gather around this year’s theme of Open Secrets, an exploration of what we reveal and what we withhold in this age of rapidly reconfiguring boundaries. Names on the program include Tommy Orange, Tara Westover, Dave Eggers, and Arundhati Roy, just for starters. You can book your seats for more than 60 events here.Celebrating LiteratureNana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah accepts the PEN/Jean Stein Award at the 2019 Literary Awards CeremonyWe celebrated new voices and eminent ones at the sold-out 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremonyheld in February on the stage of the of New York University’s Skirball Center. Winners included Imani Perry, Ben Goldfarb, Will Mackin, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Nafissa Thompson-SpiresMartin Aitken, and Jonah Mixon-Webster. Sandra Cisneroswas this year’s recipient of the $50,000 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. She dedicated her award to the “writers, poets, editors, truth tellers who offer light in the time of darkness; librarians and booksellers, patron saints in the age of distraction; the sixth-grade teacher whose name I cannot remember, whose kindness I will not forget.” Actor Matthew Broderick offered a touching tribute to his friend of more than four decades, the director, playwright, and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan, in presenting him with the inaugural PEN/Mike Nichols Award for Writing for Performance, established by PEN America and Saturday Night Live creator and director Lorne Michaels to honor works in the tradition of venerated film and theater director, producer, and comedian. PEN America President Jennifer Egan closed the evening with a call to protect our essential rights to expression: “The daring works we celebrate today are a testament to the freedom we have to write them.” If you weren’t able to join us and missed the broadcast on CSPAN, watch the ceremony here.Host Glory Edim and friends ring in the new year and toast their favorite books of 2018 at New Year New Books!PEN America kicked off 2019 by continuing a tradition—the New Year New Books party in New York City—and starting a new one with a twin event in Los Angeles. In New York, we celebrated at the Sean Kelly Gallery, hosted by Darnell MooreGlory EdimHannah Lillith AssadiHanya YanagiharaMasha Gessen,andRon Chernow. On the West Coast, New Year New Books made its debut at the gallery Band of Vices with host committee Shauna Barbosa, Susan Orlean,and Michelle Tea. The festivities continued at the 2019 Emerging Voices Fellows annual welcome party for the new cohort of fellows who will spend a year working with Los Angeles mentors to find their path into literary careers. (Read about the acclaimed Emerging Voices alumni.)Claudia Rankine and Layli Long Soldier in conversation as part of our PEN Out Loud series with the Strand Book StoreOur spring season of public programs kicked off with a PEN Out Loudconversation featuring the 2019 PEN/Jean Stein Award winner Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah and co-host of AM to DM for BuzzFeed News Isaac Fitzgerald. The March PEN Out Loudinstallment was a powerful poetry celebration with 2018 PEN/Jean Stein winner Layli Long Soldier and 2018 PEN America Literary Awards judge Claudia Rankine. The two met for the first time—though they already knew and admired each other’s work—and discussed double consciousness, whiteness, writing American history, and their work in progress. There was another robust conversation at PEN America’s Annual General Meeting Town Hall on Writing Wrongs: Call-outs, Correctness, and Culture Wars. Taking on this complex, timely, and fraught topic were PEN America Trustee and playwright Ayad Akhtar, historian and former New York Review of Books Editor Ian Buruma, Slate‘s Inkoo Kang, The New York Times’s Wesley Morris, novelist Francine Prose, and author and founding editor of them. Meredith Talusan. You can now watch how the discussion played out here. In Los Angeles, the 2019 PEN Presents conversation series launched, focused on page-to-screen adaptations with Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. of Quarter Life Poetry, slated for a Spring 2019 release on FX.Defending Free ExpressionWe continue to pursue our First Amendment lawsuit PEN America v Trump with an amended and expanded complaint, and we are pleased by the support from experts on press freedom, retired journalists, and First Amendment scholars. Our challenge argues that while much of what the president says in denigrating the press is protected free speech, it is a violation of the First Amendment when he seeks to use the organs of state to curtail the work of journalists and media outlets. We are continuing to track incidents that present threats and risks for our Members and other journalists.Writers take on the moral criteria for artistic creation at Writing Wrongs: Call-outs, Correctness, and Culture WarsPEN America marked the 100-day anniversary of the murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Postcolumnist Jamal Khashoggi by co-hosting a memorial event on Capitol Hill where Jennifer Egan appeared alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and multiple other members of Congress. “As a novelist and journalist myself who works with fellow writers worldwide, Jamal Khashoggi’s murder felt like an assault on our family,” Egan said. “By honoring and remembering him, we remind the Saudi government—and our own—that murdering journalists is not just barbaric and grotesque, but incapable of stifling their voices.” Washington Director Tom Melia also spoke in front of the White House as part of a call for the administration to be responsive to Congressional demands for accountability in Khashoggi’s murder.Jennifer Egan delivers remarks at a memorial event for Jamal Khashoggi on Capitol HillIn addition to the news about our PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees, we have been able to celebrate the recent release of several imprisoned writers and artists on whose behalf so many of you have joined in advocacy. Among those now free are Egyptian writer Ibrahim al-Husseini, after almost three months in prison; Egyptian photojournalist Mohamed Abou Zeid (known as Shawkan), after more than five years behind bars; and Turkish artist and activist Zehra Doğan, imprisoned for most of the past three years. Advocacy continues in China, where we decried the unlawful detentions of Australian writer Yang Hengjun and Chinese photographer Lu Guang. In recognition of International Mother Language Day, we called for Chinese authorities to release Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan activist trying to restore Tibetan-language education. We also spoke out against the mounting threats to reporters at the U.S -Mexico border, including recent revelations that the government has been monitoring journalists covering immigration issues at the border, along with lawyers and advocates.Art Under Pressure: Decree 349 Restricts Creative Freedom in CubaPEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a global initiative to coordinate help for artists of all kinds under threat for their expression, has just released Art Under Pressurea bilingual white paper in collaboration with Cubalex that looks at how the Cuban government’s Decree 349 adds to existing regulations in an attempt to further restrict the country’s independent art scene. ARC also recently issued a called for the Ugandan government to drop planned legislation that would require artists to obtain a government license for their work, as well as submit all lyrics, videos, and scripts to authorities for vetting prior to release. ARC Director Julie Trébault made a joint statement on protection of artists at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.Here in America we are working with a coalition to convince the Department of Justice to reject widening the ability of law enforcement to search and seize journalist records, and we are advocating in New York, Colorado, and New Mexico to pass bills to reinstate net neutrality at the state level. We filed supporting briefs in the case of journalist Manuel Duran Ortega, who was detained and at risk of deportation while reporting in Memphis, and in support of disclosure requirements for the federal government regarding treatment of immigrant children in custody. We also presented on the book restriction policies in American prisons—policies that collectively comprise our nation’s largest book ban—at Harvard Law School.PEN Across AmericaOur Stories, Our News: A Conversation with Local Journalists and Community Members in Tulsa, OKPEN America Members and allies are also organizing efforts across the country to protect press freedom and build new connections between journalists and the communities they serve. In Tulsa, Magic City Books, the Tulsa Literary Coalition, and the Tulsa Press Club brought together a conversation about how media narratives shape our understanding of public issues and what journalism can do to elevate lesser heard voices. In Chicago, a PEN America Press Freedom Incentive Fund grant is supporting South Side Weekly’s workshop series offering hands-on sessions in journalism basics. In Dallas, we are collaborating with the Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Institute of Humanities to launch a series on Boundaries & Borders: Literature, Journalism, and Storytelling. This is all part of the PEN Across Americainitiative, and leaders from Atlanta, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, northern Kentucky, and Tulsa came together in New York earlier this month to share the strategies and techniques they are using to mobilize PEN America communities in their regions.The year is off to a lively start for PEN America, with much more to come in the months ahead. I look forward to updating you again this summer.My best,
 Suzanne Nossel
Chief Executive Officer
PEN America

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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