Member Profiles: Amy Amatangelo, Robert Jensen, Mekeisha Madden Toby, Anthony Seidman, Cynthia Sweeney



MEMBER PROFILE: Amy Amatangelo
Teleplay Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
I love the idea of an organization mobilizing to support writers. Writing can, at times, be an isolating profession and PEN Center USA builds a community that offers resources, camaraderie, and—most importantly—advocacy. I'm delighted to be a member.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
I watch quite a bit of television for work and it was fascinating to read the teleplays and to see how much color, life, detail, and insight was on the page. Reading the teleplays was like reading a mini-novella. It gave me a totally new perspective on the television-viewing experience, and I was so honored to serve as a judge.

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?
On a macro level, Freedom to Write means just that—people should be allowed to express their opinions no matter where they live, and no matter how controversial the opinion or idea. Equally important is the idea that all books should have the opportunity to be read. I loved reading as a child, and I want to instill that same love of reading in my children. That means never allowing a book to be on any kind of banned list. As a parent, I can decide what is age-appropriate for my children to read; I don't need anyone else to decide for me. On a much more micro level, I have two small children, so sometimes Freedom to Write just means being able to write without being interrupted!

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
I just finished The Martian by Andy Weir and Dietland by Sarai Walker. I'm looking forward to the new Rainbow Rowell book, which is out next month. I always have a few books in queue on my kindle.

Amy Amatangelo has been a television critic and features writer for over eighteen years. Her work appeared regularly on Zap2It.com and in the Boston Herald. Amy has also written for The Washington Post and Channel Guide Magazine. Her reviews, interviews, and feature stories can currently be found in The Hollywood Reporter, Paste Magazine, Emmy Magazine, and the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine. Amy is a member of the Television Critics Association, was an expert commentator on the TV Land special The 100 Greatest Quotes and Catchphrases and has been a regular guest on WGN Radio (Chicago) and Kiss 108 (Boston).

You can follow her on Twitter at @amytvgal.

Read "Bruce Jenner, Nobody's Punchline Now" here.




MEMBER PROFILE: Robert Jensen
Research Nonfiction Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
I work in a university, where lots of people write, but not all people who write are writers. So PEN Center USA offers a way to connect to a wider range of writers and their concerns.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
The best part of judging was having a reason to read books I would otherwise not have come across. The process was a reminder of the incredible range of human inquiry. It was inspiring.

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?
The freedom to write assumes a lot of other freedoms and opportunities, such as having adequate resources to find time to read and write. Freedom of expression is related to other freedoms and values such as equality and dignity.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
I’m planning a new course on food policy. So, I’m diving into the growing literature about the culture and politics of food. A lot of great books in the past decade to review.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, 2015). Jensen’s other books include Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (City Lights, 2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also coproducer of the documentary film Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. An extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff is online here.

Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online here.




MEMBER PROFILE: Mekeisha Madden Toby
Teleplay Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
I’m excited about the way PEN Center USA honors and invests in writers. It is inspiring and reassuring, as an artist and a professional.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
I actually found myself falling in love with the written word yet again and finding a whole new way to connect to the shows I love, by reading the scripts that made each show possible. It was also refreshing to become a fan of shows I don’t regularly watch because of how well-written some of the scripts were.

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?
Education is the key to freedom and advancement, especially as a descendant of enslaved black people in America. My ancestors sacrificed all that they did so that one day I could go to college and pursue my professional and intellectual aspirations and realize the American dream while helping others. As a journalist, words have helped me trumpet the exceptional and condemn the oppressive, and I am eternally grateful to have the gift and the opportunity to write and read freely.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.

Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based journalist and TV critic. She has been honing her craft professionally since 1999, writing for Essence, MSN TV, The Detroit News, TV Guide, Playboy.com, Mom.me, People Magazine, The Wrap, CNN.com, Us Weekly, Smashd.co, The Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. The Detroit native, wife, and mother holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Wayne State University. At the age of ten, she launched her own magazine and paid her staff in candy. Check out her podcast at tvmadnessmmt.podbean.com.




MEMBER PROFILE: Anthony Seidman
Translation Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
To serve literature, help foster its growth, and participate in the resistance against censorship. The opportunity to connect with writers from all parts of the globe is an honor.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
The chance to engage in animated dialogue with other translators…to learn from them, weigh their opinions, insights. Most importantly, to read outstanding new works by writers of global stature, and to see to it that they and their translators are recognized.

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?
That a new Roque Dalton, Miklós Radnóti, or Yannis Ritsos may write openly, condemn what must be condemned, celebrate what must be celebrated, and never suffer the horrors inflicted upon the triad I just mentioned.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
As usual, several books of poetry: Les Dialogues Obscurs / The Dark Dialogues by the neglected British poet W.S. Graham, rendered splendidly into French by Anne-Sylvie Homassel and Blandine Longre. (I’ve enjoyed reading first his work in the original English and then seeing how the poet-translators have captured his anguishing work in French.) I am also reading the new collection of poetry by Martín Camps entitled Los Días Baldíos, and rediscovering the poetry of Luis Cardoza y Aragón. In addition to those titles, I have a great collection of short fiction on my nightstand: Revólver de Ojos Amarillos by J.M. Servín.

Anthony Seidman is a poet translator from Los Angeles. His work has been included in such journals as Chiron Review, Nimrod, World Literature Today, Modern Poetry In Translation, Huizache, Cardinal Points, and The Black Herald, among other publications. His third collection of poetry, Cosmic Weather, is due from Eyewear Publishing of London in early 2016. The Bitter Oleander Press will publish his new translation project, Confetti-Ash: Selected Poems of Salvador Novo, later this year, with David Shook as his co-translator. Seidman’s second collection of poetry, Where Thirsts Intersect, is still available from The Bitter Oleander Press.




MEMBER PROFILE: Cynthia Sweeney
Fiction Judge

One benefit of being a Literary Awards judge is receiving a one-year membership to PEN Center USA. As a new PEN Center USA member, what excites you most about the organization?
The way PEN Center USA works to nurture and encourage emerging writers and its commitment to inclusiveness, which is crucial to building a rich community of voices.

What did you enjoy most about serving as a Literary Awards judge?
In addition to reading so many wonderful books, I enjoyed working with my fellow judges enormously. Reading is a solitary activity, but loving books builds community. Andrew, Melanie, and I had many spirited conversations about what moves us as readers and writers and people who care deeply about the literary world. Our exchanges were always lively and illuminating, and enriched the reading experience.

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?
The ability to speak the truth as you observe it, without fear.

You just finished reading a large number of submissions for the 2015 Literary Awards. What are you reading now?
I am reading Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child as slowly as I can because I don’t want the series to end.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel, The Nest, will be published by Ecco/HarperCollins in March 2016. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.