The first time I became aware of PEN was when I was a high school teenager in New York and I read an article in Saturday Review. It was the frightened fifties. Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee were riding high. And here was a group that was doing something about the baleful situation. Writers were fighting for writers. Putting their reputations on the line. And what reputations: John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Arthur Miller, Langston Hughes. The list went on and on. The article detailed that PEN had been formed in 1921 by novelists, poets, and playwrights to speak out about assaults in foreign lands where writers were being denounced, arrested, and imprisoned for their beliefs. But now the troubles were not in Germany or Russia. The writers who were under fire were Americans. It seemed a wondrous thing that there was an organization of people willing to risk their livelihoods and even, in too many cases, their own freedom to defend the rights of others.

Some years later I was working in Los Angeles when PEN came west, expanding the eligibility pool to include screen and television writers. My friends and I were among the first to apply for membership. On a personal basis, PEN has been an important and often inspiring influence on me as a writer. In the mid-1990s I wrote a spec script called Dash and Lilly, about Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman and their encounters with the Blacklist—he went to prison rather than name names and she narrowly escaped a similar fate, following her HUAC stance that “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions.” It took five years to find a production aegis for Dash and Lilly—the consensus of buyers was that the Blacklist was old dated news—but A&E backed a production in 1999. Sam Shepard and Judy Davis played the title roles and the production was much honored. Unfortunately, the loosely-tossed accusation of “Un-Americanism” remains as timely as Ted Cruz's or Rudy Giuliani's next speech.

More recently I wrote a mystery novel called Blacklist (published last summer by Macmillan), which in large part is an examination of the impact those “Are you now or have you ever been” years have had on the children of the Blacklist, on both sides of the political spectrum. I feel that the existence of PEN and the activist shelter it provides for all writers is an important factor in such explorations. Long may it exist.

Jerry Ludwig is a multiple-Emmy Award-nominated writer for television. He has been nominated for the Golden Globe and the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for TV writing; he has also won the Writers Guild of America Award. Ludwig has written for Murder, She Wrote; MacGyver; Mission: Impossible; and Hawaii Five-O. Jerry Ludwig's latest novel Blacklist is available for purchase from the Macmillan website or on Amazon.

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