Photograph of Central Park Lake (NYC) courtesy of Nkon21 under CC BY-SA 4.0

“The City Council has already shown an incredible commitment to ensuring the broader artistic economy is supported during this disastrous time,” said PEN America’s COO Dru Menaker. “But we’re alarmed that writers have not been explicitly included in calls for support . . . “

A citywide coalition of literary arts organizations sent a letter to the New York City Council insisting that council members consider writers and literary arts organizations as a vital part of the city’s artistic infrastructure in its upcoming budget. The letter asks that the council ensure writers and the organizations that support them are included in any relief package designed to revive the arts community amid the coronavirus crisis.

“In times of national crisis, we have long turned to writers for inspiration, understanding, comfort, and enlightenment. Writers who call New York City home have helped this country and the world make sense of global depression, war, and the societal impact of racism, inequity, and hatred,” the letter reads. “Our city cannot afford to let this literary legacy lapse by ignoring the needs of our writers at this critical juncture.”

The letter – addressed to council members Van Bramer, Gjonaj, Moya, Cumbo, and Borelli of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations – says that the impacts of the coronavirus crisis on the arts has been clear, and the City Council has already called on the mayor to ensure federal relief funds are directed in part to artists or arts organizations. But those calls have omitted novelists, nonfiction authors, poets, essayists, playwrights, translators, and other writers. Writers have lost significant income, facing canceled speaking engagements, declines in book sales, loss of teaching, and publishers failing to pay royalties and advances, creating acute financial need.

“The City Council has already shown an incredible commitment to ensuring the broader artistic economy is supported during this disastrous time,” said PEN America’s COO Dru Menaker. “But we’re alarmed that writers have not been explicitly included in calls for support. PEN America, as a literary organization but also as a membership organization representing nearly 3,000 writers across the city, believes that the City Council can do the right thing here. Writers, now more than ever, are essential to the life of the city. And their livelihoods are imperiled by the loss of part time and gig work that often keeps writers financially afloat.”

The letter calls on the city council to include writers as part of the artistic community, as well as the organizations that showcase and support them. That means an explicit mention of writers and writers’ organizations in any legislative language relative to supporting the arts. The letter calls on the Council to provide tax credits to city-based businesses to support literary arts organizations, relief for commercial rents, and a project that would remunerate writers to document the impacts of the pandemic on New York City.

“We hope our representatives in the Council will address the financial and health needs of those who provide the City with its essential services, including our first responders and healthcare professionals, and that they continue to fund programs that provide the sick, homeless, disabled, the undocumented, and marginalized communities and youth with the care and attention they need,” the letter says. “But as you contemplate ensuring how best to use relief funds to shore up the arts, we call upon you to recognize the vital role the literary community writers and the literary organization that showcase and support their work will play in bearing witness to these troubled times.”

This post is courtesy of PEN America.

PEN America runs the Writers Emergency Fund, designed to support writers who are most directly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Read more about that fund here.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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