What is PEN America? | The US Sun

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NONPROFIT organization PEN American has hit the headlines as they fight the ban on inaugural poet Amanda Gorman’s book.

But what is PEN America and what are they doing to help? Here’s everything you need to know.

Pen America is a nonprofit advocacy organisation aiming to maintain and expand freedom of expression

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Pen America is a nonprofit advocacy organisation aiming to maintain and expand freedom of expressionCredit: Getty Images – Getty

What is PEN America?

PEN America is a New York City-based advocacy organization that aims to protect the freedom of speech and expression through the advancement of literature and human rights.

As well as its advocacy, it also operates as a literary society.

It is affiliated with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of 124 similar non-governmental organizations.

According to their founding charter, members must “pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world”.

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They also undertake to “oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts for political and personal ends”.

Full membership is open to published writers, translators, agents, editors and other publishing professionals.

They also offer reader and student memberships at reduced rates.

Famous members have included John Steinbeck, Susan Sontag and Salman Rushdie.

What does PEN America stand for?

At its founding in 1922, PEN America originally stood for Poets, Essayists and Novelists.

This was later widened to include playwrights and editors.

However, the name is no longer used as an acronym given the range of professions represented amongst the membership.

Who is the CEO of PEN America?

PEN America was established by a group of acclaimed literary professionals, including Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Ellen Glasgow and playwright Eugene O’Neill, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936.

As of May 2023, Suzanne Nossel is the CEO of PEN America.

Nossel is a human rights advocate and former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.

She also previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

Why is Florida banning books?

In May 2023, Amanda Gorman stated that the published version of her inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, had been banned by a Florida school.

Other schools in the state have also faced accusations of banning books, often relating to topics considered to be politically or religiously sensitive.

There have also been claims of books being revised in Florida public schools, including a textbook entry about Rosa Parks seemingly being edited to remove references to race.

It comes after state governor, and presidential hopeful, Ron DeSantis signed a new law in 2022 that requires schools to catalogue their books and create a formal complaints process to review the categorisations.

At the time, DeSantis said that the legislation “aims to preserve the rights of parents to make decisions about what materials their children are exposed to in school.”

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However, critics have said that the law is being applied too strictly and used as a tool to censor topics that radical Republicans consider to be “woke“, such as discussions about race and gender.

PEN America is joining with Gorman’s publisher, Penguin Random House, to fight the alleged ban in the courts.



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