PEN America and PEN Center USA move to unite writers coast to coast to strengthen defense against new threats to expression – PEN Center USA in Los Angeles to Join Forces with PEN America in New York to Create National Organization
PEN America and PEN Center USA will join forces in 2018 as a stronger national organization under the banner of PEN America, uniting writers coast to coast to bolster the defense of free expression in the face of increasingly potent threats to speech, press freedom, the right to dissent, and the open flow of information in the United States and around the world.
The two organizations, separately founded and historically independent of one another, have each worked to advance organizational missions to defend and celebrate free expression. Founded in 1922 with headquarters in New York and members in 49 states, PEN America focuses on literary programs and awards, as well as a robust free expression advocacy program, including through a Washington, D.C., office. PEN Center USA, founded in 1943 with headquarters in Los Angeles, offers special programming for writers and their allies living west of the Mississippi. The combined membership of the two organizations is approximately 6,500. The boards of both organizations have voted in favor of unification.
“The decision to join forces was born of a shared sense of urgency to fortify our collective efforts at a time of unprecedented challenges to free speech here at home,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “As a unified organization with strong tent poles on both coasts and a diverse, growing community of writers and readers all across the country, we can speak out more forcefully, mobilize a wider creative community, and mount a more forceful effort to defend free expression, amplify silenced voices, and foster dialogue that transcends differences.”
“Building on the foundation of PEN Center USA’s deep and longstanding regional roots, we are excited by the opportunities that national reach will afford the communities we serve,” said Michelle Franke, executive director of PEN Center USA. “We look forward to leveraging new capabilities to build our programs and community of activists, members, and supporters, creating an even more engaged, vibrant, and dynamic locus for L.A.-based writers and their allies to mobilize behind our mission.”
Under the unification plan, Nossel will continue to lead PEN America nationally alongside an expanded Board of Trustees, including representatives from Los Angeles. An internationally recognized expert on human rights and free expression who has served as Chief Operating Officer of Human Rights Watch and a Deputy Assistant Secretary at the United States State Department, Nossel joined PEN America in 2013 and has overseen significant expansion of the organization’s free expression advocacy, literary programming, membership, and base of supporters. Under her leadership, PEN America has taken on pressing free expression issues in the United States, including fake news and the defense of truth, efforts to shut down controversial speech on American college campuses, artistic freedom, and digital rights, and in 2017 established the Press Freedom Incentive Fund to expand its programs to new cities and organize U.S. writers in local communities across the country. PEN America’s Board of Trustees is led by President Andrew Solomon and includes writers Jennifer Egan, Dinaw Mengestu, Saeed Jones, Hanya Yanagihara,Masha Gessen, Theresa Rebeck, and Ayad Akhtar.
For writers and their allies in the west, PEN America’s Los Angeles office will be led by Franke, a writer and editor with deep literary contacts who has held leadership positions at PEN Center USA for more than a dozen years, including the last three as executive director. Franke has produced over 200 literary events across Southern California and was named a “Face to Watch” by the Los Angeles Times. She is a published poet and teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in Los Angeles.
All current PEN Center USA members will automatically be welcomed as members of the new unified PEN America. PEN USA programs, including the renowned Emerging Voices Fellowship, a literary mentorship that supports writers isolated from the literary establishment to launch professional writing careers, will continue to be a staple of PEN America’s west coast programming.
The unified organization will maintain activities in New York and Los Angeles, and is piloting new programs in more than a dozen cities, including Birmingham, Cincinnati, Detroit, Miami, Tulsa, Tucson, Washington, D.C., and more.
Both PEN America and PEN Center USA maintain affiliations with the global network of PEN International, which the unified organization will continue. In compliance with California law, PEN Center USA’s membership will be asked to ratify the recommendation, which entails changes to the organization’s bylaws. PEN America and PEN Center USA anticipate the unification to be complete by March 1, 2018.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion 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.
To find out more about Irish PEN and their new Rapid Action initiative in association with PEN International contact Vanessa@writing.ie