PEN America cancels 2024 awards as writers protest


PEN America

By Nehru Odeh

More than half of the writers nominated for the 2024 PEN America literary awards have withdrawn their works in protest against the organization’s stance on the war in Gaza.

As a result of this development, the organisation has canceled its prestigious 2024 awards ceremony earlier scheduled to hold in New York City on 29 April 2024, Time magazine reported.

PEN America, which is dedicated to free expressions made this announcement via a statement it released on Monday as 28 of the 61 authors and translators withdrew their books, citing its alleged lack of support for Palestinian writers. Nine out of ten authors nominated for the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award—the event’s most lucrative honor—withdrew their work from consideration.

“We greatly respect that writers have followed their consciences, whether they chose to remain as nominees in their respective categories or not.

“We regret that this unprecedented situation has taken away the spotlight from the extraordinary work selected by esteemed, insightful, and hard-working judges across all categories,” PEN America’s Literary Programming Chief Officer Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf said. .

The annual awards ceremony has, since 1963, recognized outstanding literary voices across multiple genres including fiction, poetry, children’s literature, and drama.

Related News

This writers’ boycott comes amid growing discontent in the literary sphere over PEN America’s response to Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, as the conflict approaches its 200th day.

Since February, over 1,300 writers and poets have called on the organisation to “find the same zeal and passion that they have for banned books in the U.S. to speak out about actual human beings in Palestine.”

A second open letter—published last week—saw 30 nominated writers and translators demand the resignations of PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, President Jennifer Finney Boylan, and the entire PEN America Executive Committee.

There are also question-marks about PEN America’s World Voices Festival, due to take place in New York City from May 8 to 11 and Los Angeles from May 8 to 18. Last month, prominent writers such as Naomi Klein, Michelle Alexander, and Zaina Arafat, signed an open letter withdrawing from the festival.

Following the boycott, PEN America shared the names of its 2024 finalists and winners online. The organization said it is considering how to allocate funds for each award on a case by case basis.

The estate of Jean Stein has directed PEN America to donate the $75,000 prize money to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, calling Stein a “passionate advocate for Palestinian rights” in PEN America’s press release.

“Proud, inspired,” wrote novelist Maya Binyam, one of the nominees who withdrew their work, on social media platform X. “Thank you to all the authors who withdrew their work, to the PEN staff who supported our action, to the writers who withdrew from the WVF and charted a path forward, to Jean Stein for saying what PEN America refuses to—Gaza will be free.”

Load more