Six New Regional Chapters of PEN America to further mobilize activism and organizing within the greater writing community

American bison (Bison bison bison) in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States. Only a week after this photo was taken, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, officially making the American bison the national mammal of the United States. Please also notice the moose photobombing the bison on the left / photo courtesy © Frank Schulenburg under CC BY-SA 4.0

“I’m proud and thrilled that PEN America is working actively to foster and support literary culture in six critical regions and create a home for writers, readers, and advocates. I look forward to joining with our members to insist upon the cultural and civic value of literary expression, and protect the freedoms that make it possible—locally, nationally, and internationally.” Jennifer Egan, President of PEN America

PEN America, the organization of writers and readers advancing free expression and celebrating the power of literature, announced today the launch of six regional chapters across the United States. These new chapters – in Austin, Birmingham, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, the Piedmont Region of North Carolina, and Tulsa – are led by PEN America members and extend the reach of PEN America’s New York headquarters and offices in Washington and Los Angeles.

“At a time of exceptional threats to free expression and open discourse, our chapters will bring years of mobilization, activism and organizing among writing communities across the country to the next level. We are exceptionally proud of the local leaders who are driving forward this effort,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “With 7,500 members across the country and tens of thousands of allies, our movement – called PEN Across America – is pushing back against the breakdown of civil discourse, the marginalization of vital voices, and encroachments on press freedom, driving forward PEN America’s mission at a time when it has never been more essential.’’

For nearly 100 years, PEN America has worked as an association of novelists, non-fiction authors, poets, playwrights, others from the literary community, and readers to protect and celebrate free expression. PEN America campaigns to free writers imprisoned around the world, monitors press freedom, elevates emerging writers and honors prominent authors, and addresses contested speech on campuses, fraudulent news, hate speech, online harassment, and the other complexities of expression in our digital age. The launch of these new chapters brings members together to stage writers in conversations, advocacy campaigns, public debates, and more, drawing on PEN America’s national resources and the creative energy and priorities of the local literary community.

The bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of America, because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks. / Illustration courtesy of Peter K Burian under CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

“Readers are my people, and one of the chief delights of going on a book tour is connecting with communities of readers and writers across America,” said PEN America President Jennifer Egan. “I’m proud and thrilled that PEN America is working actively to foster and support literary culture in six critical regions and create a home for writers, readers, and advocates. I look forward to joining with our members to insist upon the cultural and civic value of literary expression, and protect the freedoms that make it possible—locally, nationally, and internationally.”

After the 2016 presidential election, PEN America became convinced that the organization’s mission to both celebrate and defend free expression demanded reaching beyond the coasts. The groundwork for these new chapters has been laid through convenings, partnerships, and dozens of events PEN America has supported in 20-plus cities during the last two years — from advocacy-themed open mics and local author conversations at independent bookstores to meet-your-newsmaker gatherings and interactive media literacy workshops.

The new chapters will be helmed by literary leaders who emerged during this preparatory phase of PEN Across America, and already have a rich network of writers, academics, librarians, booksellers, activists, and other allies in their communities. The Austin chapter will be headed by Chaitali Sen, author of the novel The Pathless Sky, and Tim Staley, who leads the Austin Public Library Foundation. Poets Ashley M. Jones and Alina Stefanescu will lead the Birmingham branch. In Dallas/Fort Worth, novelist and scholar Sanderia Faye will take the reins of that region’s chapter, alongside Deep Vellum publisher, translator, and bookstore owner Will Evans. In Detroit, writer and social worker Amber Ogden takes on the chapter alongside PEN America Literary Award Winner, Jonah Mixon-Webster. In North Carolina, writer and performer Deonna Kelli Sayed will lead the PEN America Piedmont Region. And the Tulsa group will be led by author and editor Jeff Martin, founder and executive director of the Tulsa Literary Coalition and Magic City Books.

“Since our founding in 1922, our greatest strength has been our Membership – a community of writers and readers committed to celebrating literary excellence, defending free expression, and protecting persecuted writers,” said PEN America’s Director of Membership Rebecca Werner. “Rather than pre-ordaining a select list of geographies, to build these chapters we have worked hand-in-hand with local leaders, focusing on the communities that have been most energized and organized as the leading edge in our drive to become a more fully national organization.”

This post is courtesy of PEN America and Wikipedia.


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.

Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights.  Email for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Honoring Dauntless Truthtellers

Lupita Nyong’o / presented Anita Hill with the 2019 PEN Courage Award at the American Literary Gala on Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History

2019 PEN America Literary Gala hosted by John Oliver featured speeches from Lupita Nyong’o, Alec Baldwin, Robert Caro, Lina and Walid Al-Hathloul, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, and PEN America President Jennifer Egan. Gala Raises Over $2.6 Million for PEN America’s Work to Defend Freedom of Expression

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York on Tuesday, PEN America gathered leaders in literature, journalism, media, activism, and culture at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala. The role of lone individuals in using written and spoken words to unmask and upend power was on potent display in honorees including professor, lawyer, activist, and Chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality Anita Hill; history-making investigative journalist and author Bob Woodward; writer-activists and women’s rights champions Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan, imprisoned for opposing the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and punished for their role in overturning the country’s ban on women driving; and Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson, recognized for leading the company’s charge to inform the next generation and inspire them to be empathetic, engaged citizens. The night was emceed by comedian John Oliver.

Seated among guests in the Museum’s Millstein Hall of Ocean Life were this year’s literary hosts, luminaries of the writing community who attended to support and help advance PEN America’s mission: Uwem Akpan, Rumaan Alam, Casey Barrett, Preet Bharara, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Carolyn Burke, Robert A. Caro, Roz Chast, Ron Chernow, Susan Choi, Erica Dawson, Masha Gessen, Peter Godwin, Robie H. Harris, James Hannaham, David Henry Hwang, Min Jin Lee, Hari Kondabolu, Hari Kunzru, Kevin Kwan, Jay McInerney, Dinaw Mengestu, Paul Muldoon, Lynn Nottage, Gregory Pardlo, Jodi Picoult, Phoebe Robinson, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Salman Rushdie, Mona Simpson, Zadie Smith, Gay Talese, Vicky Ward, and Tara Westover. Other notable guests included Carl Bernstein, Candace Bushnell, Tonya Lewis Lee, Cynthia McFadden, Nicolle Wallace, and Robert Costa.

Time’s Up is a movement against sexual harassment and was founded on January 1, 2018, by Hollywood celebrities[2] in response to the Weinstein effect and #MeToo. As of December 2018, it has raised more than $22 million for its legal defense fund, and gathered nearly 800 volunteer lawyers

Anita Hill

Academy Award-winning actress and Sulwe author Lupita Nyong’o presented Anita Hill with the 2019 PEN Courage Award, conferred each year for dauntless exercises of free expression, in recognition of Hill’s singular role in challenging sexual harassment in the workplace and the attendant abuse of power. “As an organization that protects and amplifies the voices that those in power seek to silence, it is fitting that PEN America honors Anita Hill tonight,” said Nyong’o. “She had no safety in numbers. She was one woman calling Time’s Up decades before the wider society was ready to blow the whistle. She made her accusations against a man who would sit on the nation’s highest court and wield power for decades to come. Twenty-eight years later, amid an unstoppable wave of personal revelation and truth-telling that emulates Hill’s initial heroic act, a paradigm shift is occurring. With the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, we can speak together.”

Following an extended standing ovation, Anita Hill gave a speech tracing the significance of using her voice as a force for change: “As a descendant of a people who just a few generations before me were by law prohibited from learning to read and write, tonight’s honor is particularly meaningful. By virtue of her race, my maternal grandmother, born in 1870, was never offered a public education, and therefore never learned to read or write. But she saw to it that my mother, born in 1911, went to school, read throughout her life, and wrote. She wrote letters to me regularly during my college years. And her letters typically chronicled farm life, church life, and family life. Though she passed away years ago, when I read her letters, I hear her voice. Yet I also wonder what she might have written if she had felt truly free to express all aspects of her life…I am here today to say that I have my voice. And my ancestors’ story reminds me that I must never take having my voice for granted, and I must never abuse it. It’s taken generations to gain this privilege, the privilege I have to write and to speak out with the truth, and to speak truth to power. It’s taken that long, and I will never, ever give it up.”

Carl Bernstein

Two-time Pulitzer Prize and two-time National Book Award winning journalist and author Robert Caro (The Power Broker, The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson) introduced peerless investigative journalist and author Bob Woodward, winner of the 2019 PEN America Literary Service Award for his 47 years of work at the Washington Post and 19 bestselling nonfiction books. His writings have held the White House accountable for decades—and moved citizens across the political spectrum to do the same. Presenting the award, Caro spoke of the journalistic triumph of breaking the Watergate Scandal, which he and his partner Carl Bernstein achieved by knocking on the doors of 100 potential sources at their homes in the evening.

Bob Woodward

Caro said of Woodward, “What is a great reporter? Someone who never stops trying to get as close to the truth as possible. Sometimes it means taking a list of 100 names, going through that list name by name, and crossing out those names one by one until you have found and done your best to talk to everyone. That’s reporting; that’s the search for the truth. Novelists, poets, nonfiction writers—we are all trying to search for, illuminate, and provide insight into whatever truth there is. In his entire career, Bob Woodward has never stopped trying to seek out facts, as many facts as he could get.”

Bob Woodward reflected on Richard Nixon’s resignation: “Why? Why all the criminality? Why all the abuse of power? It was hate, the poison of hate, that awful, destructive force of utter contempt for other people. It was the engine of his presidency in so many ways and it, in the end, destroyed him. Now, 45 years later, President Donald Trump publicly exploits the divisions in this country without restraint. The Trump rallies are primal amphitheaters. He has turned hate, in his own way, into ammunition for personal and political warfare.” Woodward, whose most recent book, Fear: Trump in the White House, addressed the current administration’s untruths in perpetuating this hate, and their parallel to 1974, continuing, “Ben Bradlee, the editor at the [Washington] Post, used to tell us how you deal with the stress of reporting a story when it’s hard: Nose down, ass up, moving slowly forward to the truth.” Following his speech, Carl Bernstein joined Woodward onstage to share in the celebration of his former colleague and longtime friend.

The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award annually recognizes journalists imprisoned for their work and, with the public profile of the award, globally amplifies the urgency of their cases. Of the 44 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 39 have been released due in part to the global attention and pressure the award generates. This year, PEN America honored journalist, blogger, and activist, activist and social media commentator Loujain Al-Hathloul, and blogger, columnist, and activist Eman Al-Nafjan, who have spoken out about women’s rights and the now-lifted ban on women driving, part of Saudi Arabia’s restrictive guardianship system. They are currently detained incommunicado, with Saudi authorities refusing to disclose information about their health conditions.

copyright: PEN American, Eman Al-Nafjan and Loujain Al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz’s photograph is not publicly available, for privacy and safety reasons.

Al-Hathloul’s sister and brother Lina and Walid Al-Hathloul traveled to New York to accept the Award on the writer-activists’ behalf. Lina imagined Loujain feeling daily what Rosa Parks described when she said, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free, so other people would be also free.” Lina told the crowd of PEN America supporters that by awarding Loujain, along with Abdulaziz and Al-Nafjan, the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, they were becoming “the voice of the voiceless…who was once the voice of the voiceless but has been sent behind bars to be silenced as well.” Walid added, “The idea of knowing she is not forgotten, and that people still stand with her, is the strongest breath of freedom she can inhale when everything else has been made to break her.”

John Oliver

John Oliver remarked, “That’s as visceral a reminder as any of what this evening is all about…PEN America’s advocacy on behalf of these courageous women and so many others around the world who are under threat, imprisoned, or even worse for exercising their expression rights is so necessary right now. Together we can make sure that they know they are not forgotten. If we stand with them against forces of authoritarianism, censorship, and silencing, together we can make a difference—as happened with the journalists just released from prison in Myanmar—which is remarkable, and it doesn’t happen without pressure.” Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo—who reported on mass atrocities by the Myanmar army against the Rohingya people in Rakhine State, and were last year’s PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees—were granted amnesty on May 6, 2019, and freed from Insein prison.

This year’s Publishing Honoree, Richard Robinson, has been at the helm of Scholastic for over 40 years, overseeing the company as it has informed and inspired young readers. Alec Baldwin, a neighbor and friend of Robinson, introduced him, saying, “Dick is someone who exemplifies PEN America’s mission—a mission that resonates deeply with me personally, as we continue to fight for a free press and to acknowledge the importance of freedom of thought and creative expression. Dick understands the importance of language—how much depends on our ability to express our ideas, to access books that can change us and challenge us. Under his leadership, Scholastic has become not just the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, but also an organization that helps schools, teachers, and parents work together to make great stories accessible and relevant to millions of young people.”

Baldwin quoted a letter to Robinson, penned for the occasion by Scholastic author J.K. Rowling: “You’ve centered your life and your business around the fundamental belief that every individual child should be enabled to develop their potential to the fullest possible extent, and that a key part of that is the ability to read, and to discover other worlds through stories. I’m just one of the people who is incredibly grateful to you for having made this your mission.”

Robinson remarked that PEN America “knows that the basis of our democracy is being challenged, and that the ability of young people to develop a fact-and-reason-based approach to the world is critical to our future.” He continued, “The history of Scholastic in this area has often been controversial. We have been banned in schools in the ‘30s and ‘50s for being too soft on communism; in the ‘40s and the ‘60s for promoting liberal views on race, civil rights, and the Vietnam War; in the ‘70s for articles on student rights—not a popular subject in schools; in the 80s and 90s for climate change; and in the 2000s for the Iraq war. Despite these controversies and temporary bans, schools have relied on our balanced approach to help young gain basic knowledge about their world, with the larger goal of helping kids know how to build and maintain a fragile democracy.”

Susanne Nossel

PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said, “Tonight’s honorees span generations, geographies, and cultures but are united by their fearless fealty to truth. Whether by buckling up to document a law-defying drive across the Saudi border, publishing an expose of the rot in the White House, or taking the witness stand against a man about to be anointed for life to the highest court in the land, their willingness to imperil their lives, sully their reputations, and sacrifice their freedoms to write and speak truth are the embodiment of what PEN America exists to safeguard.”

PEN America President Jennifer Egan said, “Thank you all for joining us tonight to champion literary expression and insist upon its cultural and civic value, both around the world and here at home.”

This feature is courtesy of PEN America and Wikipedia; photo credits: Lupita Nyong’o courtesy of Daniel Benavides under CC BY 2.0; the Times-Up logo is in the public domain; Anita Hill courtesy of Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 3.0Carl Bernstein courtesy of Larry D. Moore under CC BY-SA 3.0; Bob Woodward courtesy of Jay Godwin and generously released into the public domain; Eman Al-Nafjan and Loujain Al-Hathloul courtesy of and copyright of PEN America; John Oliver courtesy of Steve Jennings under CC BY 2.0; and Susan Nossel courtesy of PEN America under CC BY-SA 4.0.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champion’s 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.

2019 PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets

Keynote Speaker, Arundhati Roy (b. 1961), 1997 Man Booker Prize-winner Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, My Seditious Heart). She will deliver this year’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture.

“Writers imagine that they cull stories from the world. I’m beginning to believe that vanity makes them think so. That it’s actually the other way around. Stories cull writers from the world. Stories reveal themselves to us. The public narrative, the private narrative—they colonize us. They commission us. They insist on being told. Fiction and nonfiction are only different techniques of story telling. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, fiction dances out of me, and nonfiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning.” Arundhati Roy in her speech Come September, Lensic Performing Arts Center, September 29,2009

On April 11 PEN America announced the full lineup of events for the 2019 PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets (May 6-12), focusing on the dissolving boundary between the public and the private in the literary, cultural, social, and political realms. The genres of literary memoir and personal testimony have flourished, in part through increased digital avenues for storytelling, revelation, and exposé. Movements like #MeToo and continuing reports of abuse within religious organizations have demonstrated the political velocity of deeply personal revelations, illuminating suppressed experiences and forcing society-wide reckonings. Personal narratives and individual stories have become catalysts for social change. At the same time, the digital revolution has enabled political micro-targeting and the leveraging of personal data in insidious ways that reshape attitudes, buying habits, and even democratic decision-making. In the seventy-plus events comprising the fifteenth anniversary of the Festival, New York and its most vital cultural institutions—from the Apollo Theater, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan, to Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, to BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance—will teem with stirring ideas and provocative debates. Fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, journalists, thinkers, artists, and activists will gather to unpack the issues around what we withhold and what we reveal, and the opportunities and dangers inherent in the rapid reconfiguring of the public and the private.

“The voluntary surrender of privacy in return for convenience, access, and human connection is fast reshaping expectations of what remains personal,” says PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “As digital technologies steamroll forward, we aim through this Festival to hit the pause button to examine why these borders are being redrawn and how writers, creators, thinkers, and individuals can influence what aspects of our lives remain truly our own as well as how to shape narratives once they enter the public sphere.”

“PEN World Voices offers an annual occasion for writers, artists, and intellectuals to pool resources for a weeklong exchange of creativity and ideas. In our era of global and national discord, such collaboration is essential—both as a refuge and a way forward.  We hope that this year’s exceptional lineup, applied to a timely theme, will prove revelatory for participants and audience alike,” says PEN America President Jennifer Egan.

Roy delivering a talk “Can We Leave the Bauxite in the Mountain? Field Notes on Democracy” at the Harvard Kennedy School on April 1, 2010

“Presenting Arundhati Roy as the keynote speaker of this festival is nothing short of a dream come true for me,” says Chip Rolley, Director of the PEN World Voices Festival. “Throughout her illustrious writing career, encompassing fiction of arresting lyricism and essays of incisive urgency, Arundhati Roy has been one of the most valiant defenders of the rights of both the individual and the collective. She caps a week of events that confront our society’s fast-evolving approach to personal narrative, exposition, and exposé. Our participants include some of the most potent exemplars of how social norms governing gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality have been up-ended by the sheer force of personal stories entering the public sphere. The festival offers audiences a ringside seat in witnessing the power of narrative in changing the world.”

New platforms of communication have enabled writers to discover the mobilizing power of their stories; simultaneously, exciting new literary voices have emerged, and established authors have been emboldened to explore highly personal territory. A signature Festival event of powerful personal testimony, It Happened to Me (May 11), hosted by The Guardian USopinion editor Amana Fontanella Khan, brings together authors Édouard Louis (Who Killed My Father), Scholastique Mukasonga (The Barefoot Woman), Pajtim Statovci (Crossing: A Novel), and Grace Talusan (The Body Papers), journalist and filmmaker Shiori Ito (Black Box), and poets Romeo Oriogun and Paul Tran. In Voices of the Silenced (May 11), Executive Director of Words Without Borders Karen M. Phillips will moderate a discussion with Scholastique Mukasonga, Idra Novey (Those Who Knew), and Marcia Tiburi (Feminismo em comum: Para todas, todes e todos) about placing survivors of assault at the center of works they’ve written. In Intimate Terrorism, on May 10, Shiori Ito, poet Gerður Kristný (Bloodhoof), authors Miriam Toews (Women Talking) and Anne Summers (Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir), and journalist Rachel Louise Snyder (No Visible Bruises) will speak of why we need to bring stories of violence against women into the public realm, and how they’ve done this in their own writings. In Secrets and Lives, memoirist Dani Shapiro (Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love) and novelist and filmmaker Bridgett M. Davis (The World According to Fannie Davis) will share the extraordinary secrets that defined their families (May 12). Tara Westover’s 2018 memoir Educated described her harrowing childhood in a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho—isolated from society as they prepared for the world’s end—and her escape into the halls of Cambridge and Harvard; she will tell that story in The Cost of an Education, with author Min Jin Lee (May 6). Édouard Louis (The End of Eddy), Carolin Emcke (How We Desire), Masha Gessen (The Future is History), and choreographer Bill T. Jones (Story/Time: The Life of an Idea) will join in The Laws of Desire—a revealing discussion on sexuality and gender—and talk about how desire evolves beyond borders of orientation and can, over time, reveal its multi-faceted realities (May 6).

Open Secrets will also include those who have boldly undertaken the dangerous—and monumentally important—work of exposing the abuses they themselves have experienced at the hands of governments. Thirty years after the Tiananmen Square Protests, the Festival will feature Rise Up: Tiananmen’s Legacy of Freedom and Democracy, a celebration of the dauntless courage and youthful defiance that challenged China’s authoritarian establishment, spotlighting and honoring those who continue to fight for freedom around the world today. Leading social justice advocate Reverend William Barber II and activist artists Fogo Azul, Sonia Guiñansaca, Aja Monet, Martha Redbone, Jesse Paris Smith, and Aaron Whitby have joined a lineup that includes Students for a Free Tibet board member Chemi Lhamo, exiled Chinese-born novelist and dissident Ma Jian, poet, novelist, musician, and documentarian Liao Yiwu, translator Michael Martin Day, and Tiananmen Square student protest leaders Zhou Fengsuo, Zhang Boli, Wang Dan, and Fang Zheng. Directed by Elena Rodriguez with a script by Catherine Filloux, this special event will be held May 7 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine as part of its exhibit The Value of Sanctuary.

In a return of Cry, the Beloved Country (May 9), a stellar line-up of writers will offer eloquent accounts of the struggles in their respective countries, speaking in their original languages with simultaneous translation on screen: Ma Jian, Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, Egyptian PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Ahmed Naji (Using Life), author and PEN International President Jennifer Clement (Gun Love), Ukrainian poet Marianna Kiyanovska (The Voices of Babyn Yar), Greek novelist Christos Ikonomou (Good Will Come From the Sea), and Russian poet Kirill Medvedev (It’s No Good: poems/essays/actions). Ulrich Baer (What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech and Truth on Campus) will moderate a conversation between photographer and documentarian Daniel Blaufuks (Under Strange Skies), playwright Catherine Filloux(whatdoesfreemean?), Tanisha C. Ford (Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul), and Domenico Starnone (Trick), on how authors and artists can challenge nations’ self-idealizing ways of distorting and erasing inconvenient histories (May 10).

The 2019 PEN World Voices Festival honors poets with extraordinary bodies of work that blur interiority and sociopolitical dissent—and looks toward a new generation of writers driving the form. After Raúl Zurita’s imprisonment by the Pinochet regime in 1973, the legendary poet of resistance chronicled atrocities committed against the Chilean people, including attacks on their language; on May 8, Zurita will read his poetry, and will join poet Norma Cole and poet/translator William Rowe in conversation. In Poetry to Power (May 10), Puerto Rican poet, activist, and actress Caridad de la Luz, aka La Bruja, will interview acclaimed poet Juan Felipe Herrera—the first Mexican-American U.S. Poet Laureate—and both will read their own works; the evening will also feature readings of poetry written by undocumented young adults. On May 7, celebrated poets Morgan Parker (Magical Negro), Jericho Brown (The Tradition), and Fatimah Asghar (If They Come for Us) will read from their work and join in conversation about crafting deeply personal poetry that carries the grief and pain of historical crime and ancestral trauma. On May 9, in Essex Hemphill: Remembering and Reimagining, author/activist Darnell L. Moore (No Ashes in the Fire); writer, poet, and playwright Timothy DuWhite; interdisciplinary artist, performer, and writer Ni’ja Whitson; and filmmaker and poet Michelle Parkerson will pay homage to Essex Hemphill, the incisively political poet who gave voice to the experiences of black gay men in America during the 1980s and 1990s and who is among the generations lost to AIDS. May 11 will also include a day of programming in celebration of the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa (The Emperor of Water Clocks), with events featuring many of his former students and peers. Black Arts Movement catalyst Sonia Sanchezwill perform with the Worker Writers School poets led by Mark Nowak (May 11), and in a second program (May 12), will be joined by Ras Baraka and April R. Silver to discuss revolution across generational lines and how to use art in the pursuit of justice. The Worker Writers School is a collaboration between Nowak and PEN America to cultivate and feature the poetry of low income wage earners from the Domestic Workers United, Taxi Drivers Alliance, Retail Action Project, and the Street Vendors Project.

Digital technology has the potential to democratize global politics, empower activists, and facilitate free speech, but recent events have also shown us how technology can exert a sinister influence on democratic practices. In Siri, Where’s My Democracy? Presented with The Guardian (May 11), Carole Cadwalladr—the celebrated investigative journalist who broke the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal—author and journalist Sue Halpern (Summer Hours at the Robbers Library), and privacy expert Danielle Citron (Hate Crimes in Cyberspace) will assess the utopian potential against the dystopian outcome that can result from the interaction of tech and politics. In Orwell’s China (May 8), Ma Jian (China Dream) and journalist Leta Hong Fincher (Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China) will speak with Chip Rolley, addressing the heightening surveillance culture, police state, and attacks on feminism in China. In Surveillance Capitalism, Human Autonomy, and You, Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism) and Douglas Rushkoff (Team Human) will join Siva Vaidhyanathan(Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy) to discuss questions of free will and autonomy in an age where our online behavior is closely tracked and manipulated for profit (May 8). The Big Chill: Creativity in the Era of Data Mining—with Dave Eggers (The Circle), technology journalist and Recode Decode host Kara Swisher, H.M. Naqvi(The Selected Works of Abdullah the Cossack and Home Boy), and students from the International Youth Congress Ifeoma White-Thorpe and Iman Abdul—will pair two generations of thought leaders in examining the impact of digital surveillance on creative expression. Digital technology has also radically reshaped our personal lives. Love in the Time of Tinder, featuring Niviaq Korneliussen (Last Night in Nuuk), Gabriela Wiener (Sexographies), Mary H.K. Choi(Permanent Record), and BuzzFeed Books founding editor/#AMtoDM co-host Isaac Fitzgerald, will look at how literature reflects the tumultuous digitized terrain of modern love and sexuality (May 7).

This year’s festival will also amplify stories from those with a keen understanding of the most contentious space within our own national discourse—the southern U.S. border. Soledad Castillo and Gabriel Méndez—who, through the oral history initiative Voice of Witness, shared their stories of border crossing to escape manifold horrors at home—will speak with the platform’s co-founder, acclaimed author Dave Eggers (The Parade), and the organization’s executive director Mimi Lok, in My Story, My Journey, My Freedom (May 8). On May 10, in This Transfronterizo Life, Jennifer Clement and Willivaldo Delgadillo (Garabato)—two authors whose experiences span both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border—will discuss this fraught space and the cross-cultural influences in their work with Oliver Laughland, senior reporter at The Guardian US. Dreaming Out Loud will feature stories written by undocumented students and DREAMers under the creative guidance of authors Álvaro Enrigue, Lisa Ko, and Charlie Vázquez (May 11).

2019 PEN World Voices’ lineup of challenging and enlightening contemporary writing includes recent examples of literary fiction’s richest offerings from the U.S. and abroad. On May 8, Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings) will speak with Victor LaValle (The Changeling) about his leap into the genre of epic fantasy, and about building a meticulous imaginary world around elements of African mythology for his Dark Star trilogy (whose first book Black Leopard, Red Wolf was released in February). Sheila Heti (Motherhood) and Elif Batuman (The Idiot) will discuss their approach to the autobiographical novel, and how they’ve blended memoir and fiction (May 10). In Women Uninterrupted, Elif Shafak (Three Daughters of Eve), Inês Pedrosa (In Your Hands), and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan (Manhattan Beach) will discuss their creating remarkable fictional female characters (May 11). Acclaimed Latin American authors Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Chaos: A Fable) and Rodrigo Fresán(The Invented Part) will discuss their work in The Library of Borges (May 7). Rodrigo Rey Rosa will also join Tommy Orange (There There) and Mohammed Hanif (Red Birds) in The Art of Violence (May 12), talking about their approaches to rendering brutal and traumatic circumstances on the page. Resonances—moderated by PEN World Voices co-founder Esther Allen—will feature Niviaq Korneliussen, Bridgett M. Davis, Gabrielle Bell (Everything Is Flammable), and Willivaldo Delgadillo reading passages from their own works as well as writing by authors who have influenced them (May 9).

As a festival that transcends genres and mediums, PEN World Voices will feature living legend Philippe Petit (On the High Wire), who famously walked between the roofs of the Twin Towers in 1974. He has, in the words of Mikhail Baryshnikov, achieved “a precise balance of chaos and creativity,” and will share what it takes to do this with fellow artist Elizabeth Streb in Artists of the Air (May 7). George Packer (The Atlantic) has written Our Man, a compelling biography of Richard Holbrooke, arguably the last great American diplomat, which he will discuss with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and journalist Ahmed Rashid in A Very American Diplomat(May 7). Tibetan Buddhist meditation master and best-selling author Yongey Mingyur Rinpochewill speak with his student Laurie Anderson about his latest book, In Love with the World, and the transformative experiences he details within it (May 7). On May 10, the New York premiere screening of Kirill Serebrennikov’s film Leto will follow Kino co-founding singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi on his early journey from underground experimentation towards Soviet Union-wide stardom. With the film touching on Soviet censorship in the 1980s, and Serebrennikov currently under house arrest in Russia, the event will, on multiple levels, serve as a tribute to uninhibited creativity in the face of institutional oppression. Last year’s One Book One New Yorkchampion Jennifer Egan will join BuzzFeed Books editor Arianna Rebolini, in an announcement and introduction of this year’s winner (May 10).

The Festival’s embrace of conversation-starting work further extends to live performance. World Voices: International Play Festival 2019a four-day festival within the festival presented with The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center—will feature readings of works by Nora Abdel-Maksoud, Sibylle Berg, Necati Öziri, Falk Richter, Yael Ronen, and Sivan Ben-Yishai, all playwrights connected to the Gorki Theater in Berlin (May 6-9). In Elyla Sinverguenza: Countering Colonialism: A Queer Ritual of Healing, PEN World Voices partners with BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance to present yet another expressive form: queer Nicaraguan performance artist Elyla Sinverguenza will perform their new work, Saint Peter Goose/Duck Pulling, reimagining a violent hyper-masculine ritual as a healing act (May 11). PEN World Voices also partners with the 2019 MATA festival to present Poetry in Concert:Blo∂hofnír (Bloodhoof), a work that expands audiences’ notions of how poetry can be experienced, in a sonic realization of Iceland’s Gerður Kristný’s Bloodhoof, her incisive feminist reevaluation of the classic Eddic poem “Skírnismál” (May 11).

The PEN America Prison Writing Program has commissioned incarcerated writers to reflect on the tensions between the realm of public readership and the often hidden creative life in prison. A selection of their works—by Peter Dunne, Greg Goodman, Lacino Hamilton, Elizabeth Hawes, Matthew Feeney, Benjamin Frandsen, Arthur Longworth, Santonio Murff,and Anna Vanderford—will be read by a dynamic group of authors, poets, actors, and activists, including Mahogany L. Browne, Aja Monet, Jon Sands, Christopher Soto, Kirya Traber, and Jecoina Vinson, in Exposure: On writing in prison (May 8).

Next Generation Now is a daylong series of stories and activities for children and families to experience literature as a means to become socially engaged, curated by Meg Lemke of Mutha Magazine on May 11 at Town Stages. It includes the fun and fabulous Drag Queen Story Hour(ages 3-8) featuring Miz Jade; the creative workshop Spellbound Theatre: Today I Will Be Fierce! (for children up to age 8), with Nidhi Chanani (co-creator of I Will Be Fierce!); Finding Your Voice: Comics Carousel, with graphic novel pioneers Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy), Nidhi Chanani, and Jerry Craft (New Kid), and emcee Robert Sikoryak (The Unquotable Trump) giving dramatic readings and visual presentations of their works (for ages 8-14); Hello, Planet(for kids up to 8) with illustrator Liniers, who will read from his picture book Good Night, Planet and paint a mural based on audience participation; You Kid: A Comics and Graphic Novel Workshop with Jerry Craft (for ages 7-14) and Make a Book with 826NYC! (for ages 8-14), both engaging and honing young people’s own storytelling potentials; and more. In Truth or Tales?, acclaimed YA writers Fatima Shaik, Martha Brockenbrough, Susan Kuklin, Torrey Maldonado, and Rita Williams-Garcia will discuss discerning fact from fiction in the digital age.

PEN World Voices Media Sponsors include WNYC, The Guardian, The New Republic, and New York Magazine.

This post is courtesy of PEN America; header photo of Arundhati Roy is courtesy of Augustus Binu under CC BY-SA 3.0; her photo in the body of the post is courtesy of jeanbaptisteparisFlickr: Arundhati Roy under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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. It’s mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. 

PEN America celebrates the release of Turkish Journalist and Artist, Zehra Doğan

“Art should never be a crime. [Zehra] Doğan is a model of courage for all journalists and artists for standing up against injustice and silence, especially because of her determination to work and create while incarcerated.” Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America

Last week PEN America celebrated the release of Turkish painter, journalist and feminist activist, incarcerated Zehra Doğan (Free Zehra Doğan • Zehra Doğan’a özgürlük). Doğan was released on February 24 after spending 600 days in a Turkish jail after courts deemed her journalistic and artistic work to be “terrorist propaganda.”

Doğan was the editor of Jin News Agency (JINHA), a feminist Kurdish news agency. She was arrested on July 21, 2016, and detained until December 2016 when she was released pending trial. On March 7, 2017, Doğan was sentenced to prison for 2 years, 10 months and 22 days on charges of “terrorist propaganda” as a result of her reporting, social media posts, and her paintings about the Turkish military’s operations in the largely Kurdish town of Nusaybin. The indictment stated that one of her paintings, which depicted a real-life scene of Turkish flags on war-torn buildings and was based on a photo circulated by the Turkish military on social media, went ‘beyond the limits of criticism.’ JINHA was also shut down as part of the government crackdown following an attempted coup in 2016.

“We are delighted that Zehra has been released and reunited with family and friends after her unjust imprisonment, which was an appalling affront to free expression,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Art should never be a crime. Doğan is a model of courage for all journalists and artists for standing up against injustice and silence, especially because of her determination to work and create while incarcerated. Many other journalists in Turkey remain behind bars. As we celebrate Zehra’s release, we call for the release of all other Turkish journalists, artists, and activists who are in prison for their journalism or their expression.”

While imprisoned, Doğan rigorously continued to work on her paintings using diverse media including pomegranate shells, tincture of iodine, and bedsheets, despite restricted access to painting materials. Following her release, she told BBC Turkish that she had never painted as much as she did in prison. Also while in prison, she founded the 8-page handmade newspaper Özgür Gündem Zindan (Free Agenda Dungeon) with the help of several of her fellow inmates. As an inmate, Doğan received public support from numerous human rights organizations and renowned artists, including the graffiti artist Banksy and prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. During her imprisonment, Doğan became the second woman in Turkey to receive the International Women’s Media Foundation’s “Courage in Journalism” award. She also received the Freethinker Prize from the Swiss Freethinker Association. Most recently, Doğan was shortlisted in the Arts category for the Index on Censorship Awards 2019.


Post and photograph courtesy of PEN America.

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.