MEMBER PROFILE: Elizabeth Wong

MEMBER PROFILE: Elizabeth Wong

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
When novelist Jervey Tervalon nominated me in 1999. It was such a surprise and a great honor.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
Because PEN Center USA is a venerated and important organization made up of writers of conscience; it honors the best writing and the best writers in the United States. Now that’s a club.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
Advocating for oppressed and suppressed jailed writers worldwide; frontline protectors for freedom of expression everywhere.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
Adjudicating for the Drama Award and reading the submissions of my esteemed colleagues, then attending an event I could never afford…the PEN Center USA Literary Awards Festival! I had never been to this event, and it was the year Joan Didion was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. Even though she couldn’t attend, I was sitting at a table when a colleague won a signed book of hers as a door prize. Plus, I could see Gov. Jerry Brown’s back from where I was sitting and breathing the same air as presenter Harrison Ford who was a stone’s throw away. But best of all, I was sitting at a table with the winner of the Drama Award, got to meet Dan O’Brien for the first time, as well as my fellow judges Anne Bertram and Adam Smith. Stellar evening. Good food. Good company.

In 2014, I was impressed to learn the awards gala wouldn’t be held at the Beverly Hills Hotel any longer because the owner of the venue, the Sultan of Brunei, enacted laws and codes of conduct not consistent with our core purpose. I applaud that decision.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
Freedom for one is nothing if not enjoyed by all. If I can’t write what I want, I cannot breathe. Putting my stories in front of an audience and having this dialogue with them, it is how I make a difference. Writing is how I can serve and be useful to my community and to my own raison d'être.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
PEN Center USA brings light to dark places where writers are silenced.

In light of the changing ways in which news is being shared, what role, if any, do you think writers and journalists play in disseminating information or encouraging action?
Just keep on writing. All writing is a call to action.

What are you reading now?
Three books at the moment. Gulp by Mary Roach; Traitor? By Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr.; and The Worlds’ Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne.

Tell us a story in one sentence.
You could say she OD’d on advice and homemade bibingka.

Elizabeth Wong is an award-winning playwright acclaimed for her unique blend of comedy and social commentary. Her plays include: Kimchee & Chitlins, Letters to a Student Revolutionary, Dating & Mating in Modern Times, and China Doll. She’s also known for her playful and spiritually-thoughtful plays for young audiences, such as The Amazing Adventures of the Marvelous Monkey King, Prometheus, Goloshes of Fortune, and Dragon/Sky. She’s received play commissions from the Kennedy Center, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Denver Center, to name a few. Her honors include the Tanne Foundation Award for artistic achievement, David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award, the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, and the Petersen Emerging Playwright Award, among others. She was a Disney Writing Fellow and a staff writer for the groundbreaking ABC sitcom All-American Girl starring Margaret Cho. She holds an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is a member of the Dramatist Guild, Writers Guild West and PEN Center USA. She will be directing Kimchee & Chitlins in St. Louis for Solid Lines Production which will include a panel to discuss the state of race relations and the news media. Her website is

Check out our past Member Profiles here.