The universal declaration of human rights 10 December 1948 / public domain photograph

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Paris, December 10, 1948

Last week PEN America applauded the introduction of two tandem bipartisan Congressional resolutions marking World Press Freedom Day, recognizing “widening threats to freedoms of the press and expression around the world, reaffirming the centrality of a free and independent press to the health of democracy, and reaffirming freedom of the press as a priority of the United States in promoting democracy, human rights and good governance.”

In the United States Senate, the resolution was proposed by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Casey (D-PA), along with 10 others. In the House of Representatives, the resolution has been introduced by the two co-chairs of the Press Freedom Caucus, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Steve Chabot (R-OH).

PEN America’s Washington Director, Thomas O. Melia, commended these initiatives:

“It is more important than ever before that public officials in America speak up for the press, as the threats against journalists on every continent are mounting day by day. That these initiatives command bipartisan support in Congress is heartening, given the fractious nature of politics these days.”

Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish text. / Public domain photograph

Since 1993, the United Nations has recognized World Press Freedom Day annually around the globe on May 3. It has been a day dedicated to affirming the fundamental principles of press freedom, celebrating the positive impact journalism has on communities, honoring journalists for the work they do to hold the powerful accountable, and standing up on behalf of those who have been silenced, imprisoned, or killed for their work as journalists.

In addition to citing the authoritative research and advocacy for press freedom by Freedom House*, the Committee to Protect Journalists**, and Reporters Without Borders, both resolutions specifically refer to the recipients of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in 2018—the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, sentenced in September 2018 to seven years in prison for their reporting on atrocities committed by the Burmese military against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.  The 2019 recipients referenced in the two Congressional resolutions are writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan who have been subjected to imprisonment, solitary confinement, and torture by the Saudi Arabian government as part of its brutal crackdown on individuals who raise their voices in defense of women’s rights in the Kingdom.

The full text of the U.S. Senate resolution can be found HERE.

Brad Hoylman courtesy of Mchida under

Also, according to PEN America, on May 3, The New York State Senate introduced and passed a resolution to mark World Press Freedom Day, affirming the centrality of the free press to our democracy. The resolution, sponsored by Senator Brad Holyman, is intended galvanize New York support and protection for press freedom at a time when attacks on journalists are on the rise in this country and amid declines in local news that would otherwise inform civic participation. Senator Holyman stated:

“Free expression is more important than ever as we witness journalists threatened, jailed and killed across the world, including in the United States,” said New York Senator Brad Holyman, sponsor of the resolution. “I’m proud to stand up for the integrity of a free and open press by passing this resolution, and grateful to PEN America for their essential work to safeguard free expression in New York and across the country.”

* Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

** Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an American independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, based in New York City, New York with correspondents around the world. CPJ promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists. The American Journalism Review has called the organization “Journalism’s Red Cross”

*** Reporters Without Borders also known under its original name Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Paris that conducts political advocacy on issues relating to freedom of information and freedom of the press. According to RSF only 9% of people live in a country where press freedom is good. 


This post courtesy of PEN America, the United Nations, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, 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. 

#MeToo ~ Anita Hill, recipient of this year’s PEN Courage Award

Anita Hill in 2014 speaking at Harvard Law School

“Women who come forward with sexual misconduct allegations are often portrayed as “crazy, vindictive, promiscuous or prudes,” reactions that explain why many don’t come forward sooner.” Anita Hill [MORE]

This week PEN America announced that professor, lawyer, and chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, Anita Hill, is the recipient of this year’s PEN Courage Award, conferred in recognition of her singular role in challenging sexual harassment in the workplace and the attendant abuse of power, and a career spent combating the silencing force of sexism. The award, which honors dauntless exercises of free expression, will be presented May 21 at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

“As a Yale Law School graduate pursuing a promising career as a legal scholar and lawyer, Anita Hill stepped alone into the glare of the public spotlight to call out abuses that others insisted be forgotten or overlooked. She has devoted her life since then to teaching, writing, and speaking out—in the process, helping to catalyze a global movement that is essential to the achievement of equality . . .

“Today, amid a worldwide reckoning over pervasive sexual harassment, Hill is leading a major effort to break the cycle of abuse and silence in Hollywood, rallying the entire entertainment industry to effect cultural change and establish accessible and clear channels of safety and accountability. As an organization that recognizes the pernicious force of inequality in eroding the right to free expression, and one that elevates those who take the greatest risks to speak out, PEN America is proud to honor Anita Hill.” ,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America.

In 1991, Hill served as a witness during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She gave her testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee of fourteen white men and a global television audience. She described numerous instances of sexual harassment while working for the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other women who had made similar allegations against Thomas were not called to testify.

In her career as a university professor and scholar, Hill has been a steadfast champion of women’ rights. She joined the faculty of Brandeis University in 1998 and in 2015 was named University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s Studies. She is the author of two books (1997’s Speaking Truth to Power and 2011’s Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home) and numerous opinion pieces (including a New York Times piece entitled “How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right,” published during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh). In December 2017, Hill was appointed Chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, which was established by a coalition of Hollywood studios, television networks, streaming services, music companies, talent agencies, trade associations, and unions. In this role, she is leading an industry-wide effort to identify and establish best practices and solve problems related to harassment, bias, equality, and diversity in the entertainment community.

In addition to Hill, PEN America will honor other women’s rights champions at its May Gala: Saudi writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan, imprisoned for opposing the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and the female driving ban in the region, will receive the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. Additionally, PEN America will recognize peerless investigative journalist Bob Woodward with the Literary Service Awardand Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson for his outstanding leadership in publishing. Past Courage Award honorees include student activists against gun violence (2018) and organizers of the Women’s March (2017). The Gala raises essential funds that fuel PEN America’s free expression advocacy efforts. Comedian and political commentator John Oliverwill host this year’s event.

This feature is courtesy of PEN America; photo courtesy of Tim Pierce under CC BY 2.0.

If you are viewing this from an email subscriptions, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view the video.

About the PEN Courage Award

The PEN Courage Award was established in 2015 to honor exceptional acts of courage in the exercise of freedom of expression. The Award is granted after consultations among PEN America staff and Trustees with specific relevant expertise on matters of freedom of expression. In some cases, outside expertise from PEN America’s membership, partner organizations, and network of contacts is enlisted to inform internal analysis and deliberations. All final decisions regarding Award determination and recipients are made by the Executive Committee of the PEN America Board of Trustees.

About 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.


The sky over Pakistan; and an example of how we feed one another’s creativity.  Well done, Anjum Ji. This poem © 2019, Anjum Wasim Dar.



Allow your mind to open to this moment and your arms
to rise as they lift the palpable blue

English Poet Myra Schneider

The sky is never engaged
in battle, not does it
itself cause a rattle,blue
for visions, dark for secrets

The sky is never engaged
but shines in grey and gold
the angry enraged clouds
make it overcast and cold

The sky is never engaged
in war nor bombs it hurls,
but sprinkles the darkness
with stars and shiny pearls.

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Programming Highlights for 15th Anniversary Edition of United States’ Leading International Literary Festival Include Events with Bridgett M. Davis, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Rodrigo Fresán, Sue Halpern, Isabella Hammad, Mohammed Hanif, Sheila Heti, Christos Ikonomou, Shiori Ito, Marlon James, Édouard Louis, Ma Jian, Emiliano Monge, Scholastique Mukasonga, H.M. Naqvi, Joyce Carol Oates, Tommy Orange, George Packer, Inês Pedrosa, Philippe Petit, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Arundhati Roy, Sonia Sanchez, Elif Shafak, Dani Shapiro, Pajtim Statovci, Kara Swisher, Miriam Toews, Colm Tóibín, Tara Westover, Liao Yiwu, Shoshana Zuboff, Raúl Zurita, and many more …

PEN America presents 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.  A flowering of the genres of literary memoir and personal testimony has been accompanied by increased digital avenues for story-telling, revelation, and exposé before both designated and public audiences. Movements like #MeToo and continuing reports of abuse within religious organizations have demonstrated the political velocity of deeply personal revelations, surfacing suppressed experiences and forcing society-wide reckonings. Personal narratives and individual stories have become catalysts for social change.

Meanwhile, the digital revolution has enabled political micro-targeting and the leveraging of personal data in insidious ways that have the power to reshape attitudes, buying habits and even democratic decision-making.

In 60+ events in dozens of venues across New York City, the 15th anniversary edition of the festival will gather fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, thinkers, and activists to discuss what we withhold and what we reveal, and the opportunities and dangers inherent in the rapid reconfiguring of the public and the private.

Arundhati Roy (b. 1961)

Yesterday PEN America announced highlights of the 2019 PEN World Voices, including its keynote speaker, an author whose work as an artist and activist has had a profound global resonance—the 1997 Man Booker Prize-winning author and activist 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, and will be joined in discussion by Siddhartha Deb (winner of the PEN/Open Book 2012 prize for The Beautiful and the Damned) on May 12.

Chip Rolley, Director of the PEN World Voices Festival and Senior Director of Literary Programs at PEN America, says “Presenting Arundhati Roy as the keynote speaker of this festival is nothing short of a dream come true for me. 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.”

Susanne Nossel

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel says, “The voluntary surrender of privacy in return for convenience, access, and human connection is fast reshaping expectations of what remains personal. 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 America President Jennifer Egan says, “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 line-up, applied to a timely theme, will prove revelatory for participants and audience alike.”

Amidst a surge in new platforms of communication, people have harnessed the mobilizing power of personal stories; exciting new voices have emerged and established authors have been emboldened to explore new territory. In It Happened to Me (May 11), Édouard Louis(Who Killed My Father), Scholastique Mukasonga (The Barefoot Woman), Pajtim Statovci(Crossing: A Novel), Grace Talusan (The Body Papers), journalist and filmmaker Shiori Ito(Black Box), and poets Romeo Oriogun and Paul Tran—all of whom have, in their work, embraced the often-liberating effect of disclosure—will present an evening of powerful testimony. On May 10, Shiori Ito, poet Gerður Kristný (Bloodhoof), Miriam Toews (Women Talking), Anne Summers (Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir), and journalist Rachel Louise Snyder(No Visible Bruises) will speak of why we need to bring domestic violence into the public realm, and how they’ve done this in their own writings, in Intimate Terrorism. In Secrets and Lives,memoirist Dani Shapiro (Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love) and Bridgett M. Davis (The World According to Fannie Davis) will share the secrets that defined their families (May 12).

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 (May 7), 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. Participants will include Ma Jian, Tiananmen Square student protest leaders Zhou Fengsuo, Wang Dan, and Fang Zheng, poet, novelist, musician, and documentarian Liao Yiwu, musician Martha Redbone, and more. In a return of a bravura event from last Festival, 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), and Russian poet Kirill Medvedev (It’s No Good: poems/essays/actions) will participate in this year’s Cry, the Beloved Country, offering eloquent accounts of the struggles in their respective countries, in their original languages with simultaneous translation on screen (May 9).

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 join poet Norma Cole and poet/translator William Rowe in conversation. 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 writer 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.

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 also exert a sinister influence on democratic practices. In Orwell’s China (May 8), exiled Chinese-born novelist and dissident 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. Digital technology has also, of course, abruptly reshaped our personal lives; featuring Niviaq Korneliussen (Last Night in Nuuk) and Gabriela Wiener (Sexographies), Love in the Time of Tinder will look at how literature depicts the tumultuous digitized terrain of modern love and sexuality (May 7).

Highlights of the 2019 PEN World Voices lineup of challenging and enlightening contemporary writing include recent examples of some of literary fiction’s richest offerings from the U.S. and abroad. In Women Uninterrupted, Elif Shafak (Three Daughters of Eve), Inês Pedrosa (In Your Hands), and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and PEN America President Jennifer Egan(Manhattan Beach) will speak about writing unforgettable fictional female characters (May 11). Acclaimed Latin American authors Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Severina) and Rodrigo Fresán (The Invented Part) will discuss their work in The Library of Borges (May 7). Resonances—moderated by PEN World Voices co-founder Esther Allen—will feature Niviaq Korneliussen, Bridgett M. Davis (The World According to Fannie Davis), Gabrielle Bell (Everything Is Flammable), and Willivaldo Delgadillo reading passages from their own works as well as writing by authors who influenced them (May 9).

A festival that transcends genres and media, 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, former New Yorker staff writer) 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 in A Very American Diplomat(May 7). On May 10, PEN World Voices will feature the New York premiere screening of Kirill Serebrennikov’s film Leto, following 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. In Countering Colonialism: A Queer Ritual of Healing, PEN World Voices turns toward yet another expressive form: queer Nicaraguan performance artist Elyla Sinverguenza will present their new work, Saint Peter Goose/Duck Pulling, reimagining a violent hyper-masculine ritual as a healing act (May 11).

On May 8, 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.

PEN World Voices’ Next Generation Now series of events for children and families this year includes the fun and fabulous Drag Queen Story Hour (ages 3-8, May 11) featuring Miz Jade, as well as the creative workshop Spellbound Theatre: Today I Will Be Fierce! (for children up to age 8, May 11), featuring story time with Nidhi Chanani (illustrator of I Will Be Fierce!).

PEN America will announce additional programming—featuring Sue Halpern, Isabella Hammad, Mohammed Hanif, Sheila Heti, Christos Ikonomou, Marlon James, Emiliano Monge, H.M. Naqvi, Joyce Carol Oates, Tommy Orange, Sonia Sanchez, Kara Swisher, Colm Tóibín, Tara Westover, Shoshana Zuboff, and many more—as the Festival approaches.

Photo credits: post header photo, ©Jamie Dedes; Arundhati Roy courtesy of Augustus Binu under CC BY-SA 3.0 license; Susanne Nossel in 2014 courtesy of PEN American Center


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

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