PEN Welcomes New Board Members

PEN Center USA welcomes literary, media, and social activism leaders Franklin Leonard, David L. Ulin, Samantha Dunn, and Amir Soltani to our Board of Directors.

Beverly Hills, CAMay 5th, 2017 – This week, PEN Center USA is excited to welcome four new board members—The Black List founder Franklin Leonard; award-winning author and former Los Angeles Times Book Editor David L. Ulin; Coast magazine executive editor, educator, and writer Samantha Dunn; and author, artist, filmmaker, and activist Amir Soltani.

Michelle Franke, Executive Director of PEN Center USA, said, “I’m proud to be welcoming Franklin, David, Samantha, and Amir to our Board of Directors. These four share PEN Center USA’s belief in truth, the power of words, and personal story. They value innovative thinking, the spirit of activism, and come with years of experience working in and for creative communities. Concepts and qualifications that feel worth mentioning in a Trump era. Together, during this critical time for the free expression advocacy work we’re known for, I believe PEN Center USA can deepen our connections to, and better support, journalism and screenwriting communities in the western US, while continuing to champion those who are voiceless, as we have for more than 30 years, using the literary arts.”

Franklin Leonard is the founder of The Black List, the yearly publication highlighting Hollywood’s most popular unproduced screenplays and the company birthed to continue its mission through an online screenplay marketplace, live staged script readings, and its iTunes Best of 2015 podcast, the Black List Table Reads. Over 300 scripts from the annual Black List survey have been produced as feature films, earning 250 Academy Award nominations and 50 wins, including four of the last nine Best Pictures and half of the screenwriting Oscars awarded in the last decade. Leonard has worked in feature film development at Universal Pictures and the production companies of Will Smith, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, and Leonardo DiCaprio. He has been a juror at the Sundance, Toronto, and Guanajuato Film Festivals and for the PEN Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, and was the recipient of the 2015 African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA)’s Special Achievement Award for career excellence. He is a member of the Associates Branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

David L. Ulin is the author, most recently, of the novel Ear to the Ground. A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, his other books include SideWalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, shortlisted for the PEN/Diamondstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay; “The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time”; and the Library of America’s Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, which won a California Book Award. He is the former book editor and book critic of the Los Angeles Times, and is assistant professor of in the English department at USC.


Samantha Dunn is the executive editor of Coast Magazine, and the author of several books including the novel Failing Paris and a bestselling memoir, Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life.  Sam’s work is anthologized in a number of places, including the short story anthology, Women on the Edge: Writing from Los Angeles, which she co-edited. She has also written for the stage and has taken a few turns screenwriting as a member of the Writers Guild of America. Sam teaches at Chapman University, in the UCLA Extension Writers Program, and at the Idyllwild Arts Center in California. She is also an adviser in the PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship.


Amir Soltani is an Iranian-American author, activist, and artist. He is the author of Zahra’s Paradise, a New York Times bestselling graphic novel about Zahra, an Iranian mother whose son, Mehdi, disappears during Iran’s 2009 protests. Zahra’s Paradise was translated into 16 languages and nominated for two Eisner Awards. It features the Omid Memorial—a list of over 17,000 Iranians executed since 1979. In collaboration with human rights organizations and activists, Zahra ran as a virtual presidential candidate in Iran’s 2013 presidential race on a human right platform, and is running again in 2017. Amir has also produced and co-directed Dogtown Redemption, a PBS documentary film about West Oakland’s recyclers broadcast on Independent Lens. Soltani is an operations director at the Semnani Family Foundation, where he currently works as a consultant. He directed the research for a project on the human cost of military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities and another on corruption in Iran’s oil industry. Amir’s articles and essays have appeared in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin (“Pilgrims and Passages”), the NYRB (“An Open Letter to President Khatami”), Street Spirit (“Oakland persecutes the poor”), and other newspapers and journals. Amir lives between Utah, California, and his virtual Iran.

PEN Center USA’s mission is to stimulate and maintain interest in the written word, to foster a vital literary culture, and to defend freedom of expression domestically and internationally.