January 9, 2018

America’s PEN branches are coming together like Voltron


Suzanne Nossel, who will direct the combined PEN America.

If it weren’t true, it would read like something out of satire.

PEN International, if you don’t know it, is a century-old global organization that fights censorship and connects writers the world over. For seventy-five years, when Americans have wanted to join PEN, they’ve had to choose one of two stateside affiliate organizations: either PEN America, headquartered in New York City and boasting nearly 6,000 members, or the PEN Center USA, founded nearly two decades later in LA, with a membership closer to 1,000.

But change is coming: the two organizations are, per a recent report by the Associated Press, joining together at last.

The two centers are to become one on March 1st, a single organization with an enlarged board, on which trustees from both coasts will be shuffled together. The older and larger New York organization looks to be dominant in the pairing: its name, PEN America, is the one that will survive the merger, and its sometimes-controversial directorSuzanne Nossel, will run the new nationwide operation. In a press release, Nossel said, “The decision to join forces was born of a shared sense of urgency to fortify our collective efforts at a time of unprecedented challenges to free speech here at home.”

Nossel has worked, besides PEN, at Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, and the US State Department, as well as the Wall Street Journal and Bertelsmann Media, which owns, among other things, three-quarters of Penguin Random House. She has written on subjects including gay rights in Nigeria, Pussy Riot, declining media freedoms in Hong Kong, and much more.

Michelle Franke, director of the LA center, told the AP, “We are excited by the opportunities that national reach will afford to our local writers and to the scriptwriting and screenwriting communities we serve.”

Nossel said the partnership would help PEN America to “speak out more forcefully, mobilize a wider creative community, and mount a more forceful effort to defend free expression, amplify silenced voices, and foster dialogue that transcends differences.”



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.