PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel speaks onstage during the 2023 PEN America Literary Gala on May 18, 2023 in New York City.

(Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for PEN America)

PEN America Cancels Awards Ceremony Amid Boycott Over 'Disgraceful' Gaza Response

"We cannot, in good faith, align with an organization that has shown such blatant disregard of our collective values," a group of authors and translators wrote in an open letter.

The prominent free expression group PEN America announced Monday that it has canceled its 2024 literary awards ceremony amid growing backlash over the organization's response to Israel's assault on Gaza and alleged attempts to suppress dissent among its employees.

The decision came after nearly half of the authors nominated for PEN America awards withdrew their names from consideration, accusing PEN America of not sufficiently speaking out against Israel's war on Gaza and the dire consequences for free expression.

The awards ceremony was scheduled to take place on April 29 in Manhattan.

In an open letter released last week, dozens of authors and translators who refused to accept any honors from the organization wrote that "PEN America has remained shamefully unwilling to speak out against the systematic nature" of Israel's "often-targeted killings of Palestinian writers, professors, and journalists and their families."

"We stand in solidarity with one another and with the people of Palestine in our refusal to lend our names and tacit approval to PEN America's disgraceful inaction," reads the open letter, which demands the resignation of PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, president Jennifer Finney Boylan, and the group's entire executive committee.

"We cannot, in good faith, align with an organization that has shown such blatant disregard of our collective values," the letter adds. "We stand in solidarity with a free Palestine. We refuse to be honored by an organization that acts as a cultural front for American imperialism. We refuse to gild the reputation of an organization that runs interference for an administration aiding and abetting genocide with our tax dollars. And we refuse to take part in anything that will serve to overshadow PEN's complicity in normalizing genocide."

"We have been disgusted, for months, by the sight of these leaders clinging to a disingenuous façade of neutrality."

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, PEN America's literary programming chief officer, said in a statement Monday that "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," Rosaz Shariyf added. "As an organization dedicated to freedom of expression and writers, our commitment to recognizing and honoring outstanding authors and the literary community is steadfast."

Outrage over PEN America's approach to Israel's war on the Gaza Strip has been intensifying for months.

In March, as Common Dreamsreported at the time, Naomi Klein, Michelle Alexander, and other high-profile writers pulled out of the PEN World Voices Festival, accusing PEN America of betraying "the organization's professed commitment to peace and equality for all, and to freedom and security for writers everywhere."

After initially refusing to do so, PEN America late last month joined its global parent PEN International in calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. But the organization's critics—including current and former employees—argue it has failed to clearly and forcefully condemn Israel's assault, which has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza and fueled a catastrophic humanitarian emergency.

"We have been disgusted, for months, by the sight of these leaders clinging to a disingenuous façade of neutrality while parroting hasbara talking points," the open letter from PEN America award nominees states. "We have also been appalled to learn that management has sought to suppress the off-hours political speech and activity of its own workers, in part by suggesting language by which staffers could be punished for participating in any political activity that undermines PEN America's mission."

The Interceptreported late last month that PEN America staffers also raised concerns in December over Nossel's decision to visit Israel amid the country's devastating attack on Gaza.

"We are concerned that Suzanne Nossel's trip as planned will be perceived as a dismissal of the urgent and worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and free expression and human rights violations in the West Bank and in Israel," the staffers wrote.

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