Timed for Election Season, PEN America Launches Free Speech 2020

 

George Orwell statue at the headquarters of the BBC courtesy of Matt Brown under CC BY 2.0

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”, words from George Orwell’s proposed preface to Animal Farm (1945)



PEN America launches Free Speech 2020, a yearlong initiative to mobilize writers and readers to elevate free speech issues and defend free expression throughout this election season. Deploying on social media and at PEN.org, the initiative will feature Q&As with presidential candidates, authors, and activists about the value of free speech; research profiling the major threats to free expression in the U.S.; and resources to guide PEN America Members and partners to defend against those threats. Free Speech 2020 will also mobilize PEN America Members and supporters across the country with a series of events, trainings, and conversations about the importance of protecting our right to speak.

With this ” . .  . the American people start making their voices heard [with the kick-off of] an election season that promises to be a pivotal moment for free expression in this country. That’s why we feel it’s the perfect time to unify our commitment to defending free speech under this organization-wide initiative,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “We’ll be building on our existing work and expanding our national footprint to fight for free expression across the country.”

Free Speech 2020 will continue through November, highlighting four major themes:

  • Defending press freedom. PEN America will build on its landmark report on the local news crisis; continue fighting in the courts to defend press freedom; conduct trainings and assemble resources for reporters to know their rights; and lead nationwide media literacy trainings.
  • Combatting disinformation. PEN America will partner with tech companies, government entities, and parties and candidates from across the political spectrum to push back against misleading information. The organization will also lead media literacy trainings, build on its pathbreaking disinformation report, and call on the digital platforms to step up their efforts to battle false information.
  • Fighting online harassment. PEN America will fan out across the country to engage with writers, journalists, and newsroom leaders in the best practices to strike back against online abuse, which imperils free speech and free dialogue. The organization will build on its Online Harassment Field Manual and additional resources.
  • Upholding protest rights. PEN America will speak out against violations of the constitutional right to demonstrate throughout the election cycle, fightingrestrictions such as the DC Mall Protest Tax, and will also publish research on legislative trends that threaten the right to protest.

“We’re at a key inflection point in the U.S., and this election season is already bringing new and unique threats to free speech,” said Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Across the country and across our digital platforms, we’re mobilizing to stand up for the public’s right to speak out and the public’s right to know. As writers, readers, and defenders of the written word, that’s our driving mission this election year.”

Through February, PEN America will be featuring Q&As with presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang (PEN America has contacted all major-party candidates for interviews). Also this month, PEN America will include video, audio, and web interviews with authors about their perspectives on free speech in 2020, which kicked off with an interview from author Mira Jacob.

For more information, visit pen.org/free-speech-2020.

***

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:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

Link HERE for Bernie’s schedule of events around the country.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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

PEN America Announces Honorary and Career-Achievement Literary Awards; Rigoberto González – PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry

Courtesy of Francisco Delgado, Unsplash

The PEN America Literary Awards have, since their founding in 1963, brought together award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics in dynamic and diverse panels of judges that determine the given year’s most resonant literature. Over the decades, the PEN America Literary Awards have expanded across genres, celebrating a wide range of writing and recognizing writers at every stage of their careers.



Tom Stoppard  courtesy of ru:Участник:KDeltaE under CC BY-SA 3.0

PEN America announced its major career achievement honors to be presented at the 2020 PEN America Literary Awards. Academy Award and four-time Tony Award winner Tom Stoppard will receive the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award for Leopoldstadt, a work of epic scale and deep personal resonance that Stoppard has said may be his final play. Leopoldstadt, set in the old Jewish quarter of Vienna, where Jews fled persecution at the turn of the 19th century, makes its world premiere on London’s West End this week, at a time when anti-Semitism is surging throughout Europe and the U.S.

The PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, honoring an author of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama with $50,000, will be given to M. NourbeSe Philip for writing that has, for four decades, merged vital formal experimentation and considerations of race, gender, colonialism, and African Diasporic identity. Playwright Tanya Barfield, critically lauded for works including The Call, Bright Half Life, and Blue Door, will accept the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. Rigoberto González—poet, novelist, memoirist, critic, professor, and vocal champion of Latinx poets—will be honored with the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. The awards will be among those presented March 2 at The Town Hall, the largest venue in the history of the PEN America Literary Awards, in a ceremony hosted by Late Night host, comedian, and “influential recommender of books” (The New York Times) Seth Meyers.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, PEN America Director of Literary Programs, said, “Fostering and celebrating international literature is central to the mission of the PEN America Literary Awards; we seek to champion original and promising writers of the global community and promote their work to an American audience. This year, we are incredibly proud to honor such urgent and diverse voices, which we know have the power to awaken empathy and redefine public discourse.”

Tom Stoppard – Recipient of Honorary PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award

PEN America introduced the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award in partnership with venerated late filmmaker and comedian Mike Nichols’ dear friend Lorne Michaels last year, when it was presented to Kenneth Lonergan. It confers a prize of $25,000 to a writer whose work represents the year’s best writing for performance, exemplifying excellence and influence in the world of theater, television, or film. At the March 2 ceremony, Lonergan, Cynthia Nixon, and Christine Baranski will pay tribute to Nichols and present the award to this year’s winner, Tom Stoppard.

At once elegant and variegated in their intellectual pursuits, Tom Stoppard’s twistingly cerebral plays are also suffused with humor and heart. Traversing time to extract new meaning from history and the literary canon, Stoppard dauntlessly maps the potentials and limits of human experience. In a review of Nichols’ 1984 production of The Real Thing, The New York Times deemed him “an intellect that has few equals in contemporary theater.” The Times (UK) has called him “Britain’s greatest living playwright.”

Stoppard’s newest play Leopoldstadt takes place in the eponymous old Jewish quarter of Vienna—where Jews from the Pale of Settlement migrated the late 1800s and early 1900s, seeking refuge from pogroms—and follows one Jewish family there across the first half of the 20th century. Though Stoppard often looks outward for influence, as evidenced in his works’ many references to and mind-warping reconsiderations of our literary past, he has described Leopoldstadt as a rare “personal” work. (Stoppard grew up fleeing the rise of Nazism, and his four grandparents were killed in concentration camps.)

M. NourbeSe Philip ­– PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature

Founded in 2016 in collaboration with the Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation, the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature is conferred annually to a living author whose body of work, either written in or translated into English, represents the highest level of achievement in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama, and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship. Previous winners of the award include Sandra Cisneros, Edna O’Brien, and Adonis.

This year’s PEN/Nabokov Award judges—Alexis Okeowo, George Elliott Clarke, Hari Kunzru, Lila Azam Zanganeh, and Viet Thanh Nguyen—have chosen poet, novelist, and essayist M. NourbeSe Philip, who has bent and pushed poetry and prose in exhilarating directions, via vivid and fragmentary portraits of the pluralities of African Diasporic experience and searing indictments of the oppressive structures—legal, linguistic, social—carried across history into our present. The Tobago-born, Canada-based writer’s many singular, varied works include She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, and Zong!

Tanya Barfield – PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award

The PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award reflects Laura Pels’s dedication to supporting excellence in American theater as well as PEN America’s commitment to recognizing and rewarding the literary accomplishment of playwrights. Recent winners have included Larissa Fasthorse, Sibyl Kempson, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Young Jean Lee, and Anne Washburn. Tanya Barfield’s “exquisite” (Time Out), “thoughtful and engrossing” (The New York Times) works—with by their resonance, poignancy, and meticulous social observation—epitomize the qualities the award was established to celebrate.

The judges of the 2020 award—Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Kirsten Greenidge, and Naomi Iizuka—write, “With a unique emotional vividness and political nuance, Barfield’s body of work-to-date explores the complications of lives lived on the margins of belonging or between so-called ‘identities.’…Whether it’s the black tenured math professor in Blue Door (2006) coming to terms with the literal haunting of his ancestors or the couple attempting to adopt an African child battling the specters of their own white privilege in The Call (2013) or the intersectional lovers in Bright Half Life (2014) possessed by the spirits of their younger selves in a newfound era of marriage equality, Barfield’s worlds are full of ghosts and it is only through a confrontation with them that the living truly learn what it is to live.”

Leigh Silverman—who directed the premieres of Blue Door, The Call, and Bright Half Life—will present the award to Barfield at the ceremony on March 2. Actor Kerry Butler, star of The Call, and award-winning actor, writer, and singer-songwriter Eisa Davis (Pulitzer Prize finalist for Bulrusher) will perform excerpts from Barfield’s work.



Rigoberto González – PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry

Rigoberto González courtesy of Carlos Parker under CC BY-SA 3.0

“I think, How clever time works, overlapping people’s lives at certain stages, and as some eyes are waking up, others are already closing, securing the continuity of the world. My mother and I were connected for twelve years. She also lived during a time I didn’t exist. And I, in turn, must now keep living when she does not. And yet my father, who still shares the same wheel of time, is more like my parallel line.” Rigoberto González, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Miriposa

Sample some of Rigoberto’s poems HERE.

The PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, established by a bequest from Hunce Voelcker and given in even-numbered years, confers $5,000 to a poet whose body of work represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature. The poet honored by the award is one who has expanded the scope of American poetry and continues to mature with each successive volume of poetry. Rigoberto González will be honored at the Ceremony on March 2, and will share a special reading of his poetry. Rigoberto González has authored five poetry collections, as well as two bilingual children’s books, and ten fiction and non-fiction books. A professor in the MFA program for Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark, he has served as a Faculty Member of CantoMundo; is a Founding Member of the Advisory Circle of Con Tinta, a collective of Chicanx/Latinx writers; and is a monthly columnist on Latinx literature for NBC Latino online as well as critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times.

As this year’s panel of judges—Cornelius Eady, Deborah Paredez, Linda Gregerson, and Monica Youn—writes, González has “devoted his writing life not only to the development of his astonishing voice as a poet and non-fiction writer but to his astute and discerning craft as a reviewer and steadfast advocate for other Latinx voices.”

The judges continue, “Rigoberto González is one of our great mythmakers, cutting to the core of historical narratives and present-day calamities, exposing the faultlines of greed and violence, love and hunger, cruelty and corruption, family and tribe that pattern human experience. The son and grandson of migrant farm workers, and claiming a cultural heritage of lyricism and activism, he is attuned to the voices of the dead and the living, and he counsels us ‘To reach the dead // walk toward the structures still standing, / their windows still looking in.’”



About the PEN America Literary Awards

The PEN America Literary Awards have, since their founding in 1963, brought together award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics in dynamic and diverse panels of judges that determine the given year’s most resonant literature. Over the decades, the PEN America Literary Awards have expanded across genres, celebrating a wide range of writing and recognizing writers at every stage of their careers.

In recent years, the PEN America Literary Awards ceremony has evolved from an auditorium event for winners and their families into a preeminent gathering of the city’s writing and publishing luminaries and passionate book lovers, who unite to celebrate diverse voices and catapult new writers to prominence. The ceremony encompasses live winner announcements, dramatic readings from selected award-winning works, and a moving In Memoriam segment, which recognizes the literary greats lost over the last year. Recent ceremony participants and attendees include Hari Kondabolu, Matthew Broderick, Candace Bergen, Lorne Michaels, Zadie Smith, Diane Sawyer, and Steve Martin.

While the career-achievement awards are announced in advance, the honors for individual works are announced from the stage. PEN America has previously announced Finalists for the 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, honoring a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, and conferring a prize of $75,000 to its author. In their selection of Finalists, the 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award judging panel—Marilyn Chin, Garth Greenwell, Rebecca Makkai, Michael Schaub, and William T. Vollmann—have elevated works that have reshaped the boundaries of form and signaled strong potential for lasting literary influence. The 2020 Finalists include Anne Boyer for The Undying (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Yiyun Li for Where Reasons End (Random House), Ilya Kaminsky for Deaf Republic: Poems (Graywolf Press), Rion Amilcar Scott for The World Doesn’t Require You (Liveright), and Chris Ware for Rusty Brown (Pantheon). The 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award winner will be announced live at the March 2 ceremony.

PEN America has also released Longlists for other 2020 Literary Awards, which can be found here.

Tickets for the Ceremony can be purchased here.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. This organization 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 DedesAbout /Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium Ko-fi

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

Link HERE for Bernie’s schedule of events around the country.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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

Poet An Ran Detained for Defending Chinese Muslims

The Huaisheng Mosque’s construction is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad’s second cousin, Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas / Public Domain

“Islam has been practiced in Chinese society for 1,400 years. Muslims are a minority group in China, representing between 0.45% to 2.85% of the total population according to the latest estimates.  Though Hui Muslims are the most numerous group, the greatest concentration of Muslims is in Xinjiang, with a significant Uyghur population. Lesser but significant populations reside in the regions of Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai.Of China’s 55 officially recognized minority peoples, ten groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim.” Islam in China, Wikipedia MORE



The detention of Muslim poet Cui Haoxin, also known by his pen name An Ran, is clear retaliation for his outspoken defense of Chinese Muslims, says PEN America.. On January 24, Chinese authorities detained poet and author An Ran in the city of Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, under accusations of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Such a charge is often employed by Chinese police as a catch-all provision against critics of government policy.

Days prior to his detention, An Ran tweeted his reaction to a story of a Hui Muslim woman who was detained by authorities in China and sent to an internment camp. An Ran retweeted the story and discussed personal experiences with Chinese authorities, mentioning his past detentions and the experience of others who have been surveilled and detained. The poet is a vocal supporter of minority rights. He has used his social media presence and his writing to raise awareness on stories of human rights abuses, including the dire human rights situation for Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

“While we don’t know what precisely triggered An Ran’s detention this time, it is patently obvious that he is being targeted yet again for his courage in acting as a voice of conscience against the government’s treatment of Muslim minorities, particularly the forced internment of millions of Uyghurs, Hui, and other ethnic groups,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. “The Chinese government must truly fear the power of free speech to engage in such repeated targeting of An Ran for his writing and his social media commentary. We call on Chinese authorities to immediately release An Ran and drop all charges leveled against him.”

Chinese authorities have repeatedly arrested and harassed An Ran in the last two years. In April 2018, while en route to a weeklong “re-education” course, An Ran was singled out for a search and questioned, detained, and then released. Four months later, police intimidated An Ran by conducting an illegal raid on his home, and attempted to censor his use of social media. In November 2018, authorities yet again questioned and detained An Ran for writing about religious repression in China on social media.

The Chinese government continues to deepen their crackdown against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, including Hui people. While authorities claim they are acting to combat Muslim extremism, numerous observers—including PEN America—have reported that the government’s policies are instead aimed at suppressing the cultural identity of Uyghurs and other minorities. PEN America has analyzed the digital rights situation in Xinjiang in its March 2018 report Forbidden Feeds, and has called the current situation in Xinjiang “one of the greatest human rights catastrophes occurring today, with massive implications for the right to free expression.”

A report on Radio Free Asia (RFA) indicates that while ” . . . Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, Chinese officials have more recently begun describing the facilities as ‘boarding schools’ that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage “radicalization,” and help protect the country from terrorism.

“But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets indicate that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

“RFA has confirmed dozens of cases of deaths in detention or shortly after release since the internment system began, and while only a handful can be definitively linked to torture or abuse, several appear to be the result of “willful negligence” by authorities who do not provide access to sufficient treatment or of poor camp conditions that exacerbate an existing medical condition.” MORE

This post is complied courtesy of PEN America, Radio Free Asia (Copyright © 1998-2020, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036), 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.

Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. RFA is funded through an annual grant from the United States Agency for Global Media, an independent U.S. agency; RFA has a legislative firewall that bars interference by U.S. government officials in the execution of RFA’s mission of providing reliable journalism to audiences otherwise deprived of uncensored, accurate press.


Jamie DedesAbout /Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium Ko-fi

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

Link HERE for Bernie’s schedule of events around the country.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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

The “American Dirt” Controversy

“The fact that we [Flatiron Publishing] were surprised is indicative of a problem, which is that in positioning this novel, we failed to acknowledge our own limits. The discussion around this book has exposed deep inadequacies in how we at Flatiron Books address issues of representation, both in the books we publish and in the teams that work on them. We are committed to finding new ways to address these issues and the specific publishing choices underlying this publication, and feel an obligation to our colleagues, readers, and authors alike. On a more specific scale we made serious mistakes in the way we rolled out this book. We should never have claimed that it was a novel that defined the migrant experience; we should not have said that Jeanine’s husband was an undocumented immigrant while not specifying that he was from Ireland; we should not have had a centerpiece at our bookseller dinner last May that replicated the book jacket so tastelessly. We can now see how insensitive those and other decisions were, and we regret them.” Statement from Bob Miller (MORE), President & Publisher, Flatiron Books

I have not read American Dirt and given the constraints on my time right now, it’s not on my to-read list. I have, however, been following the controversy around the book’s publication.  It is certainly inflamed – including the counterproductive threat of violence to author and booksellers – but if the discussion fosters awareness, diversity and equity in publishing, that would be very good indeed.  I think the criticisms are legitimate but I’m not sure we can lay them entirely at the feet of the author, although clearly she was complicit in the publisher’s deceptions.  Having said that, like Jeanine Cummins, all any of us can do is to write what we feel compelled to write. As readers we vote with our dollars and our library borrows.

Following news that Flatiron Publishers cancelled the remainder of the American Dirt book tour, PEN America issued the following reasoned statement:

“We have been closely following the debate concerning American Dirt, which implicates concerns at the heart of PEN America’s mission. Our organization has long been committed to the vital work of amplifying lesser-heard voices, and we are staunch advocates of increased diversity, equity, and inclusion in publishing. In our public programming, we strive to present the broadest array of writers from across the country and around the world. We have dedicated programs focused on fostering writing among individuals who are incarcerated, undocumented immigrant youth, and others who might be locked out of the literary community due to resources, background, or other factors. And we have engaged deeply over the last two years in combating online harassment, and recognize its particular silencing impact on women writers and writers of color.

“As writers, we believe in the necessity of reasoned discourse across differences. The breadth of passionate perspectives unleashed by this controversy has sparked an overdue public conversation. We urge that this dialogue unfold in the realm of ideas and opinions, and avoid descending into either ad hominem attacks or caricature. As defenders of freedom of expression, we categorically reject rigid rules about who has the right to tell which stories. We see no contradiction between that position and the need for the publishing industry to urgently address its own chronic shortcomings. If the fury over this book can catalyze concrete change in how books are sourced, edited, and promoted, it will have achieved something important. It is past time to equip, resource, and elevate a wider group of voices to speak for themselves and about their experiences. As a nearly 100-year-old organization, we have our own historic legacies, blind spots, and challenges to reckon with. We look at this debate through the lens of how we can continue to evolve to better fulfill our mission.

“Finally, we reject all threats of violence, as well as vitriol aimed to shut down discussion and enforce silence. In our digital discourse, harsh invective too easily gives way to threats and intimidation that have a chilling effect not only on their targets, but on entire topics or points of view. We believe such approaches impair, rather than advance, what is an urgent and essential debate.”

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.

RELATED:


Jamie DedesAbout /Testimonials / Disclosure / Facebook / Medium Ko-fi

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

Link HERE for Bernie’s schedule of events around the country.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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