Each year PEN USA presents Freedom to Write and First Amendment Awards to individuals and organizations that have produced notable work in the face of extreme adversity or demonstrated exceptional courage in the defense of free expression. The awards are presented each fall at PEN USA’s annual Literary Awards Festival. Funds are collected from our members for the purpose of helping other writers or their families for lawyer’s fees, bail or medical needs.

First Amendment Action Committee

The First Amendment Action Committee responds to assaults on free speech within American borders. Research is done and alerts are issued solely by the Freedom to Write Committee and are then sent out to members of the First Amendment Action Committee so they are able to respond to such concerns. The Committee is currently investigating and protesting the silencing of the press, violations of academic freedom, restrictions on the Internet, and measures to curb the exchange of ideas within the United States.

Emergency Actions

As a member of the Rapid Action Network of International PEN, the PEN USA Freedom to Write Committee receives and responds immediately to reports of arrests, attacks, and threats to more than 900 writers currently at risk around the world. Alerts are issued from International PEN via email to committee members, who then write letters of appeal to appropriate officials. Each year PEN USA’s efforts result in the release of dozens of writers worldwide. Recently released writers include Julia Ceclia Delgado of Cuba, Tamrat Zuma of Ethiopia and Esber Yagmurdereli of Turkey.


PEN USA’s Freedom to Write Committee seeks to spotlight ongoing dangers and disturbing new trends in the suppression of expression. We do this by investigating and reporting on regional and country-specific problems. Past efforts include the Nigeria Initiative, aimed at publicizing the link between oil politics and the silencing of dissent in Nigeria, and a coordinated campaign to end violent attacks against journalists in Latin America.


“I’ve often envied those writers in the Western world who can peacefully practice their craft and earn a living thereby… What [the authorities here] cannot stand is that a writer should give voice to the voiceless or organize them for action. In short, they do not want literature on the streets!”
—KEN SARO WIWA, written to PEN USA from his prison cell in Nigeria shortly before his execution.

High Schools

Animo Film & Theatre Arts Charter School
Culver City
Del Rey
Downtown Magnets
Manual Arts
North Hollywood
San Fernando
Santa Monica
South Gate


SARAH ARSONE:  Poet / essayist / journalist. Books of poetry include Guilty and Zen and the Art of Changing Diapers

JACKIE AUSTIN: Journalist, screenwriter, essayist.

LILI BARSHA: Author of 365 Days of Humiliation and Haunted Cabaret, an annual fright play.

MICHAEL CIRELLI: Performance poet, National Poetry Slam finalist, author of numerous anthologized poems and chapbooks


“We learned to write what we feel without fear.”
--Student, Downtown Magnet High School

“The program let my students recognize that authors are ‘regular’ people (with talent) and helped them to see the talent within themselves.”
--Sarah Schact, Teacher, Culver City High School


PEN in the Classroom is funded by the Rosenthal Family Foundation, the Dwight Stuart Youth Foundation, the Herb Alpert Foundation, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Tiger Woods Foundation, and the Winnick Family Foundation. PITC has also received support from Los Angeles Unified School District, which has included PEN in the Classroom in its Arts Community Partnership Network.


After receiving a request for a PITC residency, the PEN office will coordinate a residency.   PITC instructors are asked to align their lesson plans with the California Arts & Language Content Standards.  Instructors are selected from PEN’s diverse membership to best match the needs of the school where they will complete their residency.  Working with the classroom teacher, the PITC instructor will develop a tailored curriculum.  An instructor’s residency is comprised of a teacher/writer meeting; in-class writing workshops; publication of a student a