Funds for Writers and Poets at Risk; Emergency Funds and Grants

Fats was starting to think that if you flipped every bit of received wisdom on its head you would have the truth. He wanted to journey through dark labyrinths and wrestle with the strangeness that lurked within; he wanted to crack open piety and expose hypocrisy; he wanted to break taboos and squeeze wisdom from their bloody hearts; he wanted to achieve a state of amoral grace, and be baptised backwards into ignorance and simplicity.” J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy



ARTISTS AT RISK CONNECTION (ARC) “collates resources—including emergency funding, housing opportunities, residencies, fellowships and grants, and legal, immigration, and resettlement services—in an interactive online catalogue to help threatened artists quickly identify programs for which they’re eligible. This exhaustive database is the first of its kind for artists-at-risk, who have typically had to piece together assistance through a combination of personal contacts, referrals, and web searches, often under dire circumstances.” Details  on ARC HERE.

Susanne Nossel (c PEN America)

“Artists face backlash when they push up against intellectual, social, and ideological boundaries,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “While global campaigns and U.N. resolutions have been mounted to protect journalists and human rights defenders, threats to artists have gotten limited international attention. The Artist at Risk Connection brings together an extraordinary network of global organizations committed to augmenting the assistance available to artists who risk their freedom and their lives in the name of creative expression.”



Clearly some writer-readers are going through tough times.  If you need help, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to admit it and ask for it. It’s guaranteed that the day will come when you can play it forward.

I’ve listed just a few resources here to get you thinking and give you a place to begin. Run your searches by trade or professional association, art or craft, gender, language, national origin, and by your country or region.

Grants take time to get and there’s no guarantee that your application will be awarded.  If you are in immediate need of food, housing, healthcare or mental health counseling, reach out to the appropriate local government and nongovernmental agencies, social workers and social services, community hospitals and/or religious organizations. HERE is Open Counseling, International Listing of Suicide Hotlines. I can’t speak to hospice care outside the U.S., but in the States there are sources that don’t charge and others that will accept what your insurance carrier pays and not charge you further if you can’t afford it. You’ll have to do some digging.

Barbara Deming MEMORIAL FUND, INC. offers small grants to qualified feminist women in the arts and the next one will open for applications for Visual Art, Fiction and Mixed media from January 1-31, 2020. Details HERE.

THE HAVEN FOUNDATION offers direct financial assistance to qualified individuals – “a qualified person is dealing with a health crisis due to a recent chronic illness or chronic condition due to a recent injury or illness and where there is a question about returning to work. The Foundation’s Grant Committee will determine whether a grant offer will be made. Grants are for one year and may be renewed for up to four more years, provided that the recipient submits a supplemental application annually, and that such supplemental application is approved by the Grant Committee. Renewal grants may not be for the same amount as the original grant. The amount of the renewal is to be determined by the Grant Committee.”  Details HERE.

The PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund is an emergency fund for professional—published or produced—writers in acute financial crisis. Depending on the situation and need, the Fund gives average grants of $2,000. It is the Fund’s preference not to give repeated grants within a three-year period.

The Fund for Writers and Editors with HIV/AIDS, administered under the umbrella of the PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund, gives grants of up to $2,000 to professional writers and editors who face serious financial difficulties because of HIV or AIDS-related illness.

The Writers’ Emergency Fund does not exist for research purposes, to enable the completion of writing projects, or to fund publications or organizations. The Writers’ Emergency Fund is for writers whose primary professional occupation is writing. Self-published authors or those published by vanity presses are not eligible. Writers do not have to be Members of PEN America to receive a grant. Applications are considered at meetings of the Fund’s committee, which take place every few months.

In recent years, the PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund and Fund for Writers and Editors with HIV/AIDS has distributed more funds than ever to U.S.-based writers who are facing acute, financial crises, allocating an average of $60,000 to around 40 successful applicants each year. These grants are made possible by the generous support from the Lannan FoundationThe Haven Foundation [as above], PEN America Members, and other supporters. If you would like to support the PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund, click here to make a donation.


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Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020, a report of PEN America

“…it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it … anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”  Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe



Warning about the risk of fraudulent news and online disinformation becoming a normalized part of U.S. political discourse, this week PEN America released Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020. The report provides a robust analysis of efforts to counter fraudulent news in the 2018 midterm election cycle, and stresses the importance of social media platforms, candidates and political parties dramatically stepping up efforts to keep fraudulent news from badly polluting the 2020 election cycle.

The 50-page Truth on the Ballot catalogs and evaluates the steps taken by internet platforms, government agencies, and political parties to curb the influence of fraudulent news in the aftermath of the 2016 election cycle; examines current legislative proposals to regulate advertising transparency online; parses the role fraudulent news played in the 2018 midterm election cycle; and offers recommendations to stakeholders on vital steps to combat fraudulent news while protecting free expression rights ahead of the 2020 elections.

With fraudulent news and online disinformation distorting public discourse, eroding faith in journalism, and skewing voting decisions, Truth on the Ballot offers a stark warning about the normalization of fraudulent news and disinformation as campaign tactics, sounding an alarm that such unsavory methods are becoming part of the toolbox of hotly contested modern campaigns.  Micro-targeting capabilities have weaponized disinformation, so that what might once have passed muster as simply a hard-edged campaign message in the public arena can now move with stealthy, laser-like efficiency to reach sub-segments of voters while remaining invisible to the wider public or opposing campaigns.

“Fraudulent news has become an insidious virus infecting our democracy, feeding prejudices, fanning misperceptions, and shaping voting behavior in ways that can distort election outcomes. We see disturbing signals that domestic political actors are beginning to view disinformation as a necessary evil, believing that they have little choice but to fight fire with fire as opponents and outside actors bring disinformation tactics into our elections,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America.

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“To avoid a second presidential election cycle tainted by grave doubts over the role of fraudulent news and information in slanting the outcome we need online platforms to double down their investment in expert human intervention to augment the still-developing capabilities of algorithms and artificial intelligence to detect and address fraudulent news without impairing the free exchange of ideas. Political parties and campaigns need to commit unequivocally to reject the use of fraudulent information as a campaign tool. This report is an alarm bell: We cannot allow fraudulent news to make truth a casualty of our politics.”

Truth on the Ballot builds on PEN America’s October 2017 report, Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth, which examined how fraudulent news is eroding truth-based civic discourse and constitutes a threat to free expression. At the time, the majority of public concern over fraudulent news fixated on foreign actors, including Russian disinformation agents and Macedonian clickbait farms. While foreign-originated disinformation remains a serious concern, Truth on the Ballot warns that domestic actors are increasingly experimenting with fraudulent news and disinformation as a bare-knuckled political tactic.

Truth on the Ballot underscores the need for increased transparency regarding the funding of political ads, analyzing steps that technology companies have taken to address the problem and judging them often important, but insufficient. Additionally, the report reviews some of the most significant examples of fraudulent news during the 2018 election cycle and discusses how such disinformation shapes public discourse.

In addition to recommendations for technology companies, legislators, and political groups, Truth on the Ballot contains the 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 Pledge also serves as a tool to empower citizens to take action and hold their elected officials and aspirants for public office accountable.

Highlights of Truth on the Ballot include:

  • Analysis of the nature, volume, and impact of domestic and foreign fraudulent news and disinformation campaigns during the 2018 midterm elections and major recent political moments, including the 2017 special election in Alabama and the nomination hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh
  • Critical examination of the steps taken by three major platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and Google, to blunt the impact of fraudulent news in the run-up to the midterm elections, including revisions to their algorithms; increased transparency around political advertising; account shutdowns; and collaboration with political campaigns and government agencies
  • Overview of the evolving landscape of online disinformation, from Russian propaganda campaigns to domestic hyper-partisan actors
  • Recommendations for technology companies, political groups, legislators, and citizens, based on the bedrock idea that the most effective proactive tactic against fraudulent news is a citizenry that is well-equipped to detect, and reject, fraudulent claims
  • Call to legislators to establish a federal commission to research and analyze ways to combat the spread of disinformation
  • Call to social media platforms to establish and sufficiently support substantial teams of lawyers, advertising experts, linguists, graphics experts and election experts to augment still-developing and experimental artificial intelligence and algorithmic approaches and bring a trained, expert human eye to content in the lead-up to the 2020 elections
  • A model pledge against fraudulent news for elected officials, aspirants for public office, and political parties to commit to refraining from utilizing fraudulent news and to denouncing its use, even when it benefits them politically

The report is available HERE.

This post is courtesy of PEN America; Presidential Seal is in the public domain.

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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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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.

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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.


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Debut Writers and Women Writers Sweep Up the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards

“Don’t write about what you remember; write about what you are unable to forget.” Sandra Cisneros



Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Wins Book of the Year PEN/Jean Stein Award With Largest Prize | Playwright Kenneth Lonergan Receives Debut PEN/Mike Nichols Award for Performance Writing | Sandra Cisneros Honored for Illustrious Career That Transcends Genres, Cultures, and Languages

Yesterday, PEN America announced the winners of the 2019 Literary Awards at a  ceremony where literary luminaries and publishing tastemakers celebrated emerging writers and paid homage to established voices. Debut authors and works by and about women prevailed in a year with a record number of submissions in the nation’s largest, most comprehensive literary awards program.

The worlds of Hollywood and literature converged with the debut of the PEN/ Mike Nichols Award for Performance Writing, conferred on film director, playwright, and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan for his exemplary portfolio of work in 2018, including two Broadway stage productions that ran simultaneously:“The Waverly Gallery,” originally produced in 1999, which follows an aging leftist activist as she battles Alzheimer’s, and“Lobby Hero,” originally produced in 2002, which chronicles the story of personal ambitions amid a murder mystery. The award, established by PEN America and Saturday Night Live creator and director Lorne Michaels, highlights transformative works that enlighten and inspire audiences in the tradition of venerated film and theater director, producer, and comedian Mike Nichols, who passed away in 2014. Matthew Broderick, who presented the award to Lonergan, said: “I always saw Mike as a teacher, and I find myself feeling the same way about Kenny. It’s not every day you get to present an award named for a dear friend, to a best friend.”

Mexican-American Writer, Sandra Cisneros

Novelist, poet, and essayist Sandra Cisneros (one of my personal faves), author of The House on Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, and many more beloved works, was lauded for a lifetime of extraordinary literary contribution and presented with the PEN/ Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. Judges Alexander Chee, Edwidge Danticat, and Valeria Luiselli noted her “formidable and awe-inspiring body of work, which includes fiction, memoir, and poetry,” adding that “it’s hard to imagine navigating our world today without her stories and her voice guiding us toward much needed reclamation and endurance.” Maria Hinojosa, presenting the award, recalled advice Cisneros had given her: “Don’t write about what you remember; write about what you are unable to forget.”

Cisneros dedicated her award to all those who have touched her life and shaped her as a writer: “Writers, poets, editors, truth tellers who offer light in the time of darkness; librarians and booksellers, patron saints in the age of distraction; the 6th grade teacher whose name I cannot remember, whose kindness I will not forget.”

In a shortlist dominated by debut writers, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah emerged as the winner of the PEN/ Jean Stein Award for book of the year, with the largest prize at  $75,000, for his short story collection Friday Black. Praised for its combination of “the real and surreal, the concrete and the mythological,” the judges lauded Adjei-Brenyah’s “cool control over his prose and dialogue while allowing his imagination to abandon constraints and conventions, exploring genetic enhancement, frenzied retail work, and soft friendships. At turns horrifying and funny, tender and savage, these stories stick with you, probing the American psyche and persistently asking more of us.” In his remarks, Adjei-Brenyah shared that: “In writing this book, I wanted these stories to be out in the world even if my name wasn’t associated with them. Maybe someone would feel seen, push a conversation that needed to happen… If we can imagine a world much worse than ours, we can collectively imagine one that is much better.”

Celebrating debut short story collections, the PEN/Bingham Prize was awarded to Will Mackin for Bring Out the Dog, portraying the devastation, absurdity, surrealism, and compassion in modern warfare, drawing from Mackin’s own experiences as a U.S. Navy veteran. Nafissa Thompson-Spires took home the PEN Open Book Award for Heads of the Colored People, her debut collection of short stories, a funny, sly, and devastating collection that examines the precariousness of black lives in the United States; and Imani Perry won the PEN/Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Looking For Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, an insightful, sharp, and empathetic exploration of the life of Hansberry—writer, cultural icon, and the first black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Michelle Tea took home the prestigious PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essayfor the “singularly irresistible” voice of Against Memoir. Translator Martin Aitken won the PEN Translation Prize for his “luminous translation from the Norwegian of Hanne Ørstavik’s haunting novel Love, which follows the distant, orbiting lives of a mother and son like a telescope through one cold winter’s night.”

“Rather than a traditional celebration of achievement, PEN America’s juried awards probe the depths of the contemporary canon to identify and elevate essential voices and bring them to the widest possible audience,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “The PEN America Literary Awards are set apart by the alchemy of venerated names among the ranks of both winners and judges, and the bracing new talents whose careers are rocket-boosted by gaining recognition just as they burst on the scene.”

Katherine Seligman won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for her manuscript If You Knew, an urban noir exploring issues of homelessness and community in rapidly gentrifying San Francisco. In addition to a prize of $25,000, Seligman will receive a publishing contract with Algonquin Books.

Lifetime achievement and career awards were conferred upon authors, journalists, editors, playwrights, and poets. Jackie “Mac” MacMullan was awarded the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing, in recognition of the literary quality of her sportswriting, her exemplary use of the oral history form, and her many years as a newspaper columnist; she is also the first woman to receive this award. Larissa FastHorse received thePEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award in recognition of her exemplary and prolific output in a little over a decade that examines modern families, histories, languages, cultures, and communities. The Apogee literary journal’s Alexandra Watson won the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Editing for her exemplary stewardship of the publication, and for foregrounding writers of color and engaging with issues of race, gender, and class through the “Alternate Canon” series. Celebrating great promise in an early career poet, thePEN/Osterweil Award for Poetry was conferred upon Jonah Mixon-Webster for the high literary character of his debut collection, Stereo(TYPE), which explores the intersection of space and body, race and region, and sexuality and class; and wrestles with the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan.

In closing the ceremony, PEN America President Jennifer Egan reminded the audience that “the daring works we celebrate today are a testament to the freedom we have to write them.”

The sold-out ceremony was studded with musical, poetic, and dramatic performances, and riveting, live announcements of each winner. The evening included performances by Sweet Megg & Wayfarers, a dramatic rendition of FastHorse’s Urban Rez and What Would Crazy Horse Do by Jake Hart and Sera-Lys McArthur, and a moving tribute to literary icons lost in 2018. Comedian, filmmaker, and Ceremony host Hari Kondabolu brought roaring laughs, and sent the audience home with sound advice: “please get home safe: no reading and driving!”

All of the winners of the 2019 Literary Awards can be found HERE.

Photographs from the Literary Awards Ceremony will be available here. The video will be available on pen.org.

For over 50 years, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature, bestowing 20 distinct awards across genres from fiction and drama to sports and science writing, with cash prizes totaling more than $370,000 to writers and translators. This annual fête of literary excellence has become one of the defining literary events of the year.

This post is courtesy of PEN America. Photo credits: Sandra Cisneros courtesy of ksm36 under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Nafissa Thompson-Spires courtesy of her publisher via her Amazon page.

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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. pen.org


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