Friday, February 9, 2018

Interview With PEN America

Insights and Answers from Rebecca Stump,
PEN’s Senior Membership Manager

As a proud member of PEN, I encourage all of those who care about the world of books, free speech, literacy and the plight of writers to join and support their efforts. Below is an interview with PEN’s senior membership manager, Rebecca Stump.

1.      Why should someone become a member of PEN America?
More than at perhaps any moment in history since PEN America’s establishment, we face potent challenges to free speech, press freedom, the right to dissent, and the open flow of information here in the United States. By joining PEN America as a member, you will be contributing to the defense of the freedom to write and other forms of creative expression. You will be directly involved with an international community of writers, editors, publishing professionals, translators, and readers who share your commitment to free expression, support persecuted writers, and promote literary culture.

2.      What do you do with the financial support received from members, sponsors, and donors?
Our donors and members provide unrestricted funding critical to our programing and advocacy work. (More details on question #5!)

3.      What are the biggest accomplishments for PEN America over the last few years?
PEN America’s advocacy efforts are focused on writers at risk, around the world, who experience persecution because of their work. In December of 2017, Cameroonian-American writer, poet, and professor, Patrice Nganang, was abducted and detained, shortly after
publishing an article on the website Jeune Afrique, critical of the Biya government’s approach to ongoing instability in Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Due to PEN America’s efforts, Nganang was safely released and returned to the United States.

4.      What is PEN America doing to counter the attacks President Trump makes against free speech, the news media, and the ability of authors to practice their craft free of hassle?
Since Inauguration Day in January 2017, PEN America has recorded more than 100 specific threats to press freedom—from journalist arrests, to violence against members of the press, to the president’s attacks on fact-based reporting. Alarm bells are ringing about polarization and erosion of confidence in the media and the truth. PEN America Members and supporters have reached out wanting to do more to protect and reinforce the press as a crucial foundation for our democracy. PEN America is at the forefront of the fight to defend press freedom. We’ve opened an office in Washington, D.C., hosted a symposium, drafted op-eds, advocated on Capitol Hill, and mobilized letters and petitions.

Now we’re turning to the people. If press freedom is to survive intact in America, it will be because citizens rise up to demand and defend it. PEN America has established a Press Freedom Incentive Fund to support PEN America Members, writers, and allies to mobilize their local communities around press freedom, helping to strengthen the national constituency behind this critical cause. Our Press Freedom Incentive Fund directly supports our members across the country through financial programing support.

5.      What special programming does PEN plan to provide this year?
PEN World Voices Festival is America’s only international literary festival, attracting the best known writers from across the globe. Since our founding, we have presented more than 1,500 writers and artists from 118 countries speaking 56 languages in venues across New York City in a weeklong series of literary events with a human rights focus. The Festival was founded by Salman Rushdie, Esther Allen, and Michael Roberts in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, with the aim of broadening channels of dialogue between the United States and the world—a mission that, today, has never been more relevant.

·         At our Annual General Meeting, we are hosting a Town Hall, #MeToo: A Writers’ Reckoning, in response to the movement.  The Town Hall will bring together some of our most bracing voices with varied views for a frank conversation about the implications, contradictions, and future of the #MeToo movement, power relations in the creative spheres, the duties of individuals and institutions, and how the writing community can rise to the occasion.

·         At this critical moment, PEN America has embarked on a groundbreaking program to elevate, amplify, and celebrate Muslim voices in America. ‘The M Word,’ funded by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges Program, provides a platform for Muslim American writers to address audiences on their own terms—highlighting the art forms, narratives, and identities that influence their work—and to challenge the prevailing narrow representations of highly diverse Muslim communities comprised of more than three million Americans. DC Event 2/8/18.

·         This year’s annual Literary Gala, PEN America will honor legendary suspense writer Stephen King with the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award. PEN America Publisher Honoree is Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster.

6.      What is PEN doing to promote a literary culture here?
PEN defends the freedom to write, as well as celebrates the creative expression of writing and literature. Since 1963, PEN America has honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama through the Literary Awards. Moreover, each spring, PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, conversation, graphic narrative, and more. We champion international authors and provide first-hand insight into the minds of contemporary writers through provocative symposia.

7.      Are there too many books published these days?
PEN celebrates free and diverse creative expressions. We are thrilled that more and more writers are coming to the craft and gaining access to the world of publishing. Furthering the accessibility of publishing will further enrich our cultural conversations.

8.      How does PEN promote literacy?
It is PEN America’s objective to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. Our Prison Writing Program provides hundreds of inmates across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for inmates to express themselves freely and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power. We facilitate relationships with more than seventy mentors who work with nearly one hundred inmates. Through individual mail correspondence, mentors, who are Committee members, working writers, or MFA students, provide careful criticism, tips on the craft, and guidance in the fundamentals of structure and grammar to inmates around the country.

9.      What do you love about the role you have at PEN?
PEN America stands as the leading voice of the creative community in defending fundamental freedoms. I am proud to have a job at which I get to do my part in promoting literary excellence and free expression. Also, I have always enjoyed cultivating relationships and bringing a community together. It is a privilege to do so for a cause as important as the freedom to write.

10.   Which literary awards does PEN provide for writers? 
Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama. With the help of our partners, PEN America confers over 20 distinct awards, fellowships, grants and prizes each year, awarding nearly $315,000 to writers and translators. Full details here.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource."

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