PEN America Opens Submissions and Nominations for 2021 PEN America Literary Awards

The multiple interconnected crises facing our nation have forced us to reimagine our norms and institutions from the ground up,” said poet and PEN America Trustee Gregory Pardlo. “As individuals and organizations, we have had to call on the ingenuity of our foremothers to ‘make a way out of no way,’ as Zora Neale Hurston puts it, ingenuity that yields opportunity where, previously, there had only been struggle.



PEN America today announced the opening of submissions and nominations for the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards. Publishers and agents can submit books between now and August, and PEN America Members can nominate writers for the organization’s landmark career achievement awards.

Opportunity Knocks For

WRITERS OF COLOR

This year, PEN America announced it has increased the cash purse for the PEN Open Book Award to $10,000. The award is offered annually to a writer of color. It’s meant to challenge the lack of diversity in publishing by championing literary voices that traditionally do not see wide media coverage, encouraging the development of these talented writers, and recognizing the exemplary publishers and small presses who discover, nurture, and publish writers of color. Past winners of the PEN Open Book Award include Claudia Rankine, Meena Alexander, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among others.

“The multiple interconnected crises facing our nation have forced us to reimagine our norms and institutions from the ground up,” said poet and PEN America Trustee Gregory Pardlo. “As individuals and organizations, we have had to call on the ingenuity of our foremothers to ‘make a way out of no way,’ as Zora Neale Hurston puts it, ingenuity that yields opportunity where, previously, there had only been struggle. Strategic alterations to the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards demonstrate PEN America’s resourcefulness in pursuit of real structural change. Through the reimagined Literary Awards, PEN America redoubles its commitment to celebrating the talent and voices of the poets and writers most often marginalized by business as usual, and marshals its influence to counter inequities that distort the American literary landscape.”

PEN/Voelcker Award for

POETRY COLLECTION

The literary and free expression group will also offer a newly reimagined award, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection, for the best poetry collection of the year. In partnership with Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, PEN America will confer an increased cash purse for the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. PEN America will additionally confer two PEN/Jean Stein Grants for Literary Oral History, with increased cash prizes of $15,000 each.

Director of PEN America’s public programs Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf and the organization’s senior director of literary programs Chip Rolley are available to discuss:

  • The role literary awards play in diversifying the American literary canon;
  • How PEN America’s awards have changed careers over its half-century history;
  • And what PEN America’s enhanced awards program will offer emerging and established writers at a moment of acute financial difficulty for writers nationwide.

The 2020 PEN America Literary Awards, held March 2, conferred some $330,000 of transformative support on writers and translators. Hosted by Late Night’s Seth Meyers, it was the largest ceremony in the Awards program’s 56-year history. Honorees included Yiyun Li, Tom Stoppard, Tanya Barfield, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Rigoberto González, among others.

Click here to learn more about the PEN America Literary Awards.


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

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Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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

Writers Rally Against Anti-Asian Hatred Amid Pandemic; May 27, United Against Hate: A Day of Online Solidarity

Man Mo Temple; Hollywood Road, Tai Ping Shan, Hong-Kong, Hong Kong, Photograph courtesy of Nicolas Hoizey, Unsplash

“We realize that this anti-Asian sentiment comes alongside an equally troubling uptick in xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Black violence,” said writer and PEN America Trustee Min Jin Lee. “This is a clarion call that all forms of racist hatred, especially at this moment, are unwelcome, unacceptable, and intolerable. As writers, we reckon with the power of words each day, and we know that along with the physical violence, poisonous rhetoric is also visiting a different kind of violence on all too many people. We’re here to say: We won’t stand for it.” 



PEN America and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop today released a joint statement from well over one-hundred writers, artists, actors, and creative professionals calling for an end to anti-Asian and Asian-American sentiment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Signed by Riz Ahmed, Ayad Akhtar, Alexander Chee, Min Jin Lee, Celeste Ng, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and C. Pam Zhang, among many others (click here for a full list of signatories), the statement comes as the two organizations also announced a May 27 online day of action “United Against Hate: A Day of Solidarity” to condemn hate and celebrate Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander writers.

“The time to turn back this wave of hate is now,” the statement reads (full text below). “We, the undersigned, call on everyday citizens to join us in standing in solidarity with all those targeted by hate during COVID-19. Together, we can use the power of our collective voices to call for a more just, equal, and inclusive society. As members of the global literary community, we know well that diversity is a pillar of any liberal democracy, providing rich and varied stories to celebrate.”

The statement comes against the backdrop of a surge in hate crimes, violence, and other assaults against Asians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders, spurred by hateful rhetoric and often taking place in public spaces. The statement also highlights that public officials and leaders have not taken sufficient steps to address such attacks, and in some cases are promoting theories that blame Asian people for the coronavirus pandemic.

“We realize that this anti-Asian sentiment comes alongside an equally troubling uptick in xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Black violence,” said writer and PEN America Trustee Min Jin Lee. “This is a clarion call that all forms of racist hatred, especially at this moment, are unwelcome, unacceptable, and intolerable. As writers, we reckon with the power of words each day, and we know that along with the physical violence, poisonous rhetoric is also visiting a different kind of violence on all too many people. We’re here to say: We won’t stand for it.”

“The long history of organizing in the AAPI community parallels a longer history of anti-Asian bigotry, and the recent wave of hate is an unfortunate reminder that these racist tropes have been harming Asian American communities for decades,” said AAWW’s executive director Jafreen Uddin. “The AAWW is proud to partner with PEN America in taking a stand against this dangerous rise in bigotry. Our partnership embodies the spirit of coalition-building that has long been at the heart of organizing within the Asian American community and the AAWW’s own work in amplifying marginalized voices through the power of storytelling. History has proven time and again that we are stronger together, and with allies like PEN America on our side, we are able to meet the challenge of this moment as a forceful, united front.”

UNITED AGAINST HATE:

A DAY OF SOLIDARITY

On Wednesday, May 27, PEN America and AAWW will host a virtual day of action “United Against Hate: A Day of Solidarity.” The daylong program will include readings, lectures, poetry, and a teach-in to discuss strategies for combatting and defending against hateful actions and rhetoric. Click here for the full lineup.

Events include a teach-in featuring Jennifer Ho, Floyd Cheung, Pawan Dhingra, and Kathleen Yep; an AAWW Lit Lunch on Instagram Live with Huiyan B. Chan; a panel on countering hate speech with Nadine Strossen, Ishmael Beah, and Helen Zia; and a poetry reading with George Abraham, Kazim Ali, Regie Cabico, Marilyn Chin, Staceyann Chin, Tarfia Faizullah, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, Jenny Xie, Monica Youn, and others.

STATEMENT OF SOLIDARY

AGAINST ANTI-ASIAN HATRED

The surge in hate crimes, violence, and verbal assaults against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders in recent months is a painful reminder that racism, bigotry, and xenophobia are persistent challenges in the United States. Many of these attacks have been brazen, occurring in public spaces and online. They have been egged on at times by an administration drawing on racist tropes and stereotypes, eager to distract from its own missteps.

Reports of any individuals being spit on, stabbed, beat up, or verbally assaulted are disturbing enough when they are isolated incidents. However, when such attacks are collectively driven by hate, and when they occur in such large volume, the onus lies heavily on civil society and on our elected representatives to condemn them. Shamefully, such voices have been too few in recent months. Attacks continue to be reported in large numbers, and one recent poll found that 32 percent of Americans have witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the coronavirus pandemic. The alarming rise in xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Black violence during this pandemic demands a robust civic response.

The time to turn back this wave of hate is now. We, the undersigned, call on everyday citizens to join us in standing in solidarity with all those targeted by hate during COVID-19. Together, we can use the power of our collective voices to call for a more just, equal, and inclusive society. As members of the global literary community, we know well that diversity is a pillar of any liberal democracy, providing rich and varied stories to celebrate. On behalf of PEN America and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, we invite you to join us on May 27 for a day of action to condemn this scourge; celebrate Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander writers; and to raise your voice to call out hate in all its heinous forms.

Click here to add your name.

This post is courtesy of and in support of PEN America and the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop.


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

Maintain the movement.

“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 “Freedom to Write Index,” the first count of writers imprisoned globally; “Words,” a poem by P. Veravera Rao

Photograph courtesy of Manuel Sardo, Unsplash

“The numbers in this Index are, of course, far too high, but we also know that advocacy to free those unjustly behind bars does work. In this moment, when truth is vulnerable, and when the world faces a time of reckoning in which a new future waits to be written, it is imperative that we defend the freedom to write, and work to free those who remain behind bars for daring to exercise that power.” Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s director of free expression at risk programs



On Tuesday PEN America released the inaugural PEN America Freedom to Write Index. It’s the first annual global count of writers and public intellectuals unjustly detained or imprisoned worldwide. Covering calendar year 2019, the inaugural Freedom to Write Index shows that at least 238 writers, academics, and public intellectuals were imprisoned or held in detention in 2019, facing often brutal treatment and baseless charges. The Index includes novelists, poets, playwrights, songwriters, biographers, memoirists, essayists, bloggers, and genre writers. Nearly sixty percent were being held by just three countries: China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

“The Index spotlights governments’ nefarious will to suppress truth and control the public mind by silencing writers who dare challenge authority or portray social and political alternatives that rulers reject or fear,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “Many of these writers use the imagination to pierce ideological orthodoxies, give voice to suppressed populations, and rally readers to think and act in new ways. This is what makes great writing potent, but also threatening. Rather than treasuring literary icons, too many regimes regard esteemed independent-minded writers as a menace to the brittle state, and seek to prevent words, stories and ideas from chipping away their iron control.”

China tops the Freedom to Write Index, having held at least 73 writers and public intellectuals in prison or detention for their writing in 2019. The new PEN America analysis, drawing on sources including the extensive casework of PEN International, finds that most often, China uses the excuse of national security and “subversion of state power” to imprison writers. In the first few months of 2020, writers, citizen journalists, and activists in China have been detained by authorities as part of a government campaign to control both the domestic and international narratives on the COVID-19 pandemic. Rounding out the top three, Saudi Arabia held thirty-eight writers and intellectuals in detention or prison last year, and Turkey held thirty.

“Speaking out on behalf of individual writers at risk around the world has long been the bedrock of PEN America’s advocacy work,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s director of free expression at risk programs. “When writers are in jail, they know that the PEN global network will not let them be forgotten. We hope that this report with names and personal stories will help raise the profile of these writers, mobilizing journalists, legislators, human rights advocates, and political leaders to protest their unjust detention. The numbers in this Index are, of course, far too high, but we also know that advocacy to free those unjustly behind bars does work. In this moment, when truth is vulnerable, and when the world faces a time of reckoning in which a new future waits to be written, it is imperative that we defend the freedom to write, and work to free those who remain behind bars for daring to exercise that power.”

The PEN America Freedom to Write Index shows that in 2019, some thirty-four countries held writers, academics, and public intellectuals. The Index also found:

  • Countries in the Asia-Pacific region held one-hundred writers and intellectuals in detention or prison during 2019—making up forty-two percent of the 2019 Index—while countries in the Middle East and North Africa held thirty-one percent of the global count. Together, these two regions accounted for almost three-quarters of the cases in the 2019 Index. Countries in Europe and Central Asia held forty-one imprisoned/detained writers, or seventeen percent of the 2019 Index.
  • Of the 238 writers and intellectuals in the 2019 Freedom to Write Index, over half were prosecuted under laws concerned with national security. All thirty of the writers and intellectuals in the Index detained or imprisoned in Turkey face national security charges. In China, “national security” violations comprise over half of the seventy-three cases of writers and intellectuals in detention or prison, fifty-three percent.
  • At least fifty-three writers and intellectuals were held in detention on secret, unknown or undisclosed charges; this amounts to over a fifth of writers and intellectuals in the 2019 Index, and is particularly prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
  • Over two-thirds (sixty-nine percent) of individuals counted in the 2019 Index remain in state custody at the time of this report’s publication. Just under a third are out of state custody but continue to face ongoing legal battles or appeals of convictions; probationary restrictions on work, travel, and local movement; and/or harassment from state and non-state actors.

The report also reveals patterns in terms of what motivates governments to target writers. The drive to suppress ethnic identities and nationalism puts individuals writing in or advocating for ethno-linguistic minority languages under heightened threat, including in the context of crackdowns on Uyghur culture and language in China and Kurdish in Iran and Turkey.

Countries like China and Russia are also attacking writers who seek to expose painful truths about their countries’ respective histories, challenging enforced storylines propagated to reinforce ruling regimes. PEN America also found that while most writers being detained are men, women comprised sixteen percent of the cases documented. Many were targeted directly for their writing and advocacy on women’s rights, particularly in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Alongside the Index, PEN America is launching a new, searchable database of Writers at Risk, containing details of each of the writers in our 2019 Index along with hundreds of other cases of writers, journalists, artists, and intellectuals under threat around the world. This database offers researchers, rights advocates, and the public a wealth of actionable evidence of ongoing global threats to free expression.



Poet P. Varavara Rao; photograph courtesy of Chaithu under CC BY-SA 3.0

WORDS

Words, smothered in the folds of the self,
Must be stirred awake,
Made to amble and watch
See if wings can bear aloft
The crippled limbs
And soar into the sky.

Like the first showers after the drought
To my parched ears, my own worlds,
Not any other’s, remain strange.

Like the marvel of the sky
Discovering its lost monsoon
I long to sprout on a soil
In the vibrations of a sonorous world.

Once again I yearn to learn the utterance
At school and on the commune,
From pupils and plebeians
I dream of seizing syllables
From each of history’s furrows.

Without this voicing peal
How will this silence,
Loaded for so long in the self,
Explode?

Without this booming resonance
How will this scene,
Cryptic for so long in the eyes,
Scintillate?

Once again I must learn to utter
In communing with and listening to
Our people;
I must be tethered to the word and abide by it
What’s man’s legacy after betraying the word?

Nothing debases the word:
In the blazing furnaces of time
Under the plummeting hammer clangs,
This, as the fittest moment,
I go on forging expressions.

– P. Varavara Rao



Cases highlighted in the 2019 report include:

  • The poet and leftist intellectual P. Varavara Rao, writer and artist Arun Ferreira, and writer and scholar Vernon Gonsalves, who were all detained in India in August 2018 alongside a number of other activists in relation to their writing and work on behalf of minority and marginalized groups in India. Other writers have issued pleas for their release, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Iranian writer Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, first arrested in 2014 and sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 on propaganda charges for an unpublished fictional story concerning the practice of stoning as a criminal punishment. Released in April 2019, when she had served over half her sentence, Iraee was rearrested in November 2019.
  • Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan language rights activist who documented his work in a microblog and was detained in 2016 after he appeared in an article and short video feature published by The New York Times. He was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “separatism” in 2018, and remains behind bars.
  • Egyptian poet and songwriter Galal El-Behairy, who is serving a three-year sentence on charges of spreading false news and insulting the military, in relation to both his lyrics to the song “Balaha,” which criticized the state of the Egyptian economy and government corruption, and to his unreleased book of poetry. The filmmaker who worked on the videos for Balaha, Shady Habash, died in prison on May 2 at age 24.
  • Poet and blogger Ahmed Mansoor, who is serving a ten-year prison sentence in the United Arab Emirates for criticizing the government on social media. The official charges against him include insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and seeking to damage the UAE’s relationship with neighboring countries by publishing false reports and information on social media.
  • Yury Dmitriev, a Russian historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Russian human rights center, who has worked to uncover and document mass graves from the era of Stalinist purges.
  • Chimengül Awut, a Uyghur poet and editor at Kashgar Publishing House, was arrested in 2018, reportedly for editing the novel Golden Shoes by Uyghur writer Halide Isra’il. Authorities have since confirmed her editing as the reason for her detention, but explicit legal charges are undisclosed.

By highlighting the threats experienced by a broad range of writers, the Freedom to Write Index and database complement existing datasets that focus on journalists or scholars, helping paint a more holistic picture of attacks on freedom of expression globally, and shining a light on the impact when individual creative voices are silenced.

PEN America is deeply grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for its generous support of the Freedom to Write Index and Writers at Risk Database.

This post is compiled courtesy of PEN America, Wikipedia, and Poem Hunter

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

Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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

MAMA, Goddess of All Times, An Eulogy to Mother (Part 1) by Zimbabwean Poet in Exile, Mbizo Chirasha

Mbizo’s Mom

“In all her doings my mother influenced me to have endurance, dedication, resistance, and faith.” Mbizo Chirasha



Recently, Zimbabwean poet, Mbizo Chirasha, lost his mom. Knowing that his sense of loss and grief is compounded by the fact of his exile and an inability therefore to be with her in her last days and hours or to attend whatever funeral and memorial services are customary in his country, I invited Mbizo to write about his mom, explaining that today in the U.S. we celebrate mothers. We publish Part 1 in this post, an interview, to be followed by a hybrid poem in Part 2. / Jamie 

1.) JAMIE: Mbizo, I’m sorry to learn of your loss and thank you for being willing to share some of your thoughts and poetry with us on what is Mother’s Day here in the States. When you think of your mom, what is the characteristic that stands out most?

MBIZO: I was born during the 1970s liberation struggle and my mother still even suckling a baby who was myself. She remained dedicated as the struggle collaborator. She trudged in many areas working hand in glove with combatants of the struggle, cooking for them, washing for them, and working as messengers of the war against colonialism.  Nights they endure the brunt of war violence, heavy rains and ravaging wild animals, walking war bases for vigils and all night chores . Thus, she was a great example of unmatched resilience and dedication to change, to freedom for positive transformation.

My mother was gifted with the spirit of hardworking mother love. Everything we ate came from hard work, days of sweat and scramble in the fields to plant, cultivate, weed and harvest food and cash for uniforms and other necessities. She had a blessing of collectivism. She believed in collectivist approach in life. We used to have traditional beer gatherings that involved a lot of relatives, neighbors, and fellow villagers. Mother would send out a call to villagers who thrashed millet and shelled maize, from which the beer was traditionally brewed. It was shared along with goat meat and nonalcoholic traditional beverages.

We were taught to be focused, work hard, and nurture the spirit of never giving up through all those years of menacing when my mother would walk miles and miles in the scorching weather with other women. Their resolute intention was  to fetch and hunt for food for our survival. We were taught to be strong, diligent, creative, hard working. We were taught to live according to our means. A great mother indeed. A dedicated soul.

2.) JAMIE: I remember that your dad was a griot, so some of his influence on you is clear in that very title.  In what ways did your mom influence your love of and work on arts and literature?

MBIZO: Yes, my father was daring with words: poetry and other literature and stories. I learnt reading, spelling and writing from him from the tender age of four. My mother played a big role in everything to make me understand I must work hard in everything I do. After the death my father, she carved a creative spirit in me.  She never gave up life. Her ways remained intact. She remained loyal to our clan. She never got married again but she continued to look after us throughout the conflicts. Her leadership, her energy, her resilience, her dedication to life is in my DNA, carried with me as the seed that sat in her womb.

She might not have known much of literary arts but the kind of shaping she did gave us our character, our life and everything is what you see today as I work to grow my griot career. Like my mother, I never have given up , I survive and soldier on even in traumatizing challenges. It is a gift from a mother who was a diligent formidable spirit. Thanks to her, I can be an unrelenting griot. Thanks to her I learned to think outside the box, to the rise to every occasion that warrants attention, to challenge naysayers. My mother was a tigress, unrelenting in her fight.

3.) JAMIE: How did your mom influence your activism?

MBIZO: She was part of the liberation struggle system, that were unrelenting in the struggle for the freedom of the country we have today.  I believe they did their part well. However, in post-independence Zimbabwe we as people we have issues with the way the country is being governed.  There is a lot corruption since 1980.   Masses are suffering. Hence, I understand that freedom does not come on silver platter but its fought for with faith and resilience. Thus today I switch my roles to writing, activism, and spoken word performances. today I stand fighting to right wrong perceptions with the guiding example of our mothers and fathers who fought their own war and they won. I fight my war through literary activism . In all her doings my mother influenced me to have endurance, dedication, resistance, faith and resilience.

© 2020, Mbizo Chirasha (Mbizo, The Black Poet)

Link to Part 2 HERE.

MBIZO CHIRASHA (Mbizo, The Black Poet) is one of the newest members of The BeZine core team. He is the founder of Womawords Literary Press, which is dedicated to giving space to the voices of women and girls and is a partner in The BeZine International Poetry Month,a blog event. He is a multi-award winning poet from Zimbabwe who is on the run. We have been coordinating in the search for safe harbor. In part I am posting this today to remind everyone that while we’ve made progress with funding, we still need to find a host for Mbizo, preferably Germany. Open to suggestion.  Connect with me if you are able to help, have leads, or have questions. You can read more about Mbizo and his story: Zimbabwean Poet in Exile: Award-Winning Poet Mbizo Chirasha, A Life on the Run, Interview.


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

Sustain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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