Member Profile: Justin Hudnall

MEMBER PROFILE: Justin Hudnall

When did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
In 2015.

Why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
Being connected to PEN Center USA makes living and working in our corner of the literary landscape in Southern California feel connected to the bigger ecosystem, rather than isolated and provincial, all the things we tell ourselves during our darker moments.

What is most exciting to you about PEN Center USA?
Its Freedom to Write mission to defend and advocate on behalf of open expression represents the very best of what the literary community is capable of, and the ties that unite us regardless of borders and politics.

What is your favorite memory/story of PEN Center USA or a PEN Center USA event?
Having PEN Center USA’s Executive Director Michelle Franke come down to San Diego and convene a meeting of the city’s writing groups and organizations. This is the kind of accidental intervention that reaffirms and rekindles the teenage furor and love for the art that indoctrinated me in this sport to begin with. I always wanted to be the best I could be, but I equally loved discovering and uniting with other people who were compelled to dispense with every sane instinct and commit themselves to this secular church we’d otherwise carry alone.

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?
I believe there are two fronts that Freedom to Write engages in. The first is the struggle against regimes that actively silence the voices they feel threatened by—and in doing so confirm the power held by the writer more than any award ever could—and the second is the internal censorship that lives in the mind of the otherwise free citizen, planted there through the subtler forms of social coercion.

What do you wish other people knew about PEN Center USA?
I wish every writer—or let’s use that overwrought word “storyteller” out of deference to the instinct of many great budding artists who feel they need permission from some non-existent greater power before they feel allowed to call themselves writers—knew about PEN Center USA and became a member because it makes real—and tangible, and dangerous—the instinct that what we do is more than entertainment, or academically attractive, but the stuff that begins and maintains the best of humanity’s instinct to better itself and the varied cultures it manifests through. I always default to paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut’s line about how if you make one person in this world feel less alone then you’ve earned the right to take your place among the doctors and the lawyers. PEN Center USA manifests that statement.

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?
The future of entertainment and information is the individual—that’s an irreversible trend and one I find empowering and new, hopefully part of a changing landscape in which the gate keepers and tastemakers are the readers themselves. I hope writers invest themselves in their digital community, reviewing and sharing the books they find compelling and raising the intellectual bar of that community.

What are you reading now?
The Sellout by Paul Beatty. I wish more writers embraced satire. One can’t fully undermine the worst in their culture without comedy. Writing that’s fun and fearless feels infinitely more influential than the sort that purports to influence through shame and guilt.

What are you working on now?
So Say We All is pleased to announce the release of our latest anthology, Incoming, featuring the true stories of American veterans and active duty writers on the subject of returning home from deployment and transitioning back to civilian life. We think it’s an impressive collection and an important document recording the experience of pre- and post-9/11 veterans and their experiences. We’re also producing a radio series by the same name that can be heard online at

Justin Hudnall serves as the Executive Director of So Say We All, a San Diego-based 501(c)3 nonprofit literary arts organization whose mission is to help people tell their stories and tell them better through education, performance, and publishing. He also produces the radio series, Incoming, featuring true stories from America’s veteran writers, told in their own words, straight from their own mouths. He holds a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. For more information visit and


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