“I’ve often envied those writers in the Western world who can peacefully practice their craft and earn a living thereby… What [the authorities here] cannot stand is that a writer should give voice to the voiceless or organize them for action. In short, they do not want literature on the streets!”
—KEN SARO WIWA, written to PEN Center USA from his prison cell in Nigeria shortly before his execution.
Since 1921, International PEN has championed freedom of expression and defended writers of conscience. PEN members were influential in crafting Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression… and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” PEN holds Category A status at UNESCO and consultative status with the United Nations, where the organization lobbies on behalf of writers who are harassed, imprisoned, and murdered for the peaceful expression of their views.
As a member of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, PEN Center USA works to secure the release and to support the families of writers of conscience around the world. Members visit their colleagues in jail in other parts of the world and hand deliver aid in the form of letters and financial assistance whenever possible. With public events and over the Internet, members raise awareness about freedom of expression abroad while working to protect the First Amendment at home.
PEN Center USA’s Freedom to Write Committee, made up of more than 200 volunteer writers, seeks to create a broader American consensus in favor of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
On November 8, 2011, PEN Center USA honored Ellie Herman, a teacher at Animo Pat Brown Charter High School in Los Angeles, with the Freedom to Write (Domestic) Award, for her ongoing work with PEN In The Classroom and the publication of TRUTH: A Literary Journal. This video was presented at the 21st Annual Literary Awards Festival, where Ellie accepted her award.
Since 1995, PEN in the Classroom (PITC) has proudly published the written work of thousands of talented youth. PITC sends professional writers into classrooms to teach creative writing residencies in which students learn about contemporary authors and different literary genres, and develop a body of creative writing work. The resulting PITC anthologies are windows into students’ lives—their struggles, hopes, and the collective experiences of their generation.
This video portrays one of the most successful and rewarding community residencies that PEN In The Classroom has ever run. Watch as the participants of the residency at the Southern California American Indian Resource Center (SCAIR) give their final reading.
Emerging Voices is a literary fellowship that aims to provide new writers who lack access with the tools they will need to launch a professional writing career. Over the course of the year, each Emerging Voices fellow participates in a professional mentorship, hosted Q & A evenings with prominent local authors, a series of Master classes focused on genre, and at least two public readings. The fellowship includes a $1,000 stipend.
Participants need not be published, but the fellowship is directed toward poets and writers of fiction and creative nonfiction with clear ideas of what they hope to accomplish through their writing.
Watch the 2014 Emerging Voices Apply video. Video shot by Brad Wilder and Created by Tommy Moore.