The PEN America Literary Awards have been cancelled.


Dan Sheehan

April 22, 2024, 12:24pm

Following months of escalating protest over the organization’s response to Israel’s war on Gaza, and the recent withdrawal of over a third of this year’s nominees, the 2024 PEN America Literary Awards have now officially been cancelled.

 

In the last hour, PEN America confirmed this cancellation in a press release published on the organization’s website:

PEN America announced today the cancellation of its annual Literary Awards ceremony, and released the names of its 2024 award finalists and winners.

It was a very difficult decision not to move forward with a public celebration to recognize this year’s honorees, according to PEN America’s Literary Programming Chief Officer Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf.

“We greatly respect that writers have followed their consciences, whether they chose to remain as nominees in their respective categories or not,” said Rosaz Shariyf. “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. As an organization dedicated to freedom of expression and writers, our commitment to recognizing and honoring outstanding authors and the literary community is steadfast.”

The five finalists and a winning title for each award were selected by the judges during their final deliberation, which took place before some authors shared their decision to withdraw from consideration as finalists. Winners who remained under consideration for their respective award will receive their cash prizes. No winners will be announced if the selected winning title was no longer under consideration for the award. For the cash prizes that could not be conferred, a decision about how to allocate the funds will be made on a case-by-case basis, according to the specifications of each award contract and the wishes of our generous award underwriters. Of the 61 authors and translators nominated for a book award this cycle, 28 authors chose to withdraw their books from consideration.

Nine of the ten authors recognized as nominees for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award withdrew their work from consideration.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Wendy Vanden Heuvel, and Bill Clegg, on behalf of the foundation and the Literary Estate of Jean Stein, provided the following statement: “Jean Stein was a passionate advocate for Palestinian rights who published, supported, and celebrated Palestinian writers and visual artists.  While she established the PEN America award in her name to bring attention to and provide meaningful support to writers of the highest literary achievement, we know she would have respected the stance and sacrifice of the writers who have withdrawn from contention this year. To honor their decision the Estate of Jean Stein has directed PEN America to donate the $75,000 award to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.”

Although there will be no ceremony this year, PEN America is honored to recognize the career achievement winners including playwright Tony Kushner for the 2024 PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award; Suzanne Jill Levine for the 2024 PEN/Ralph Manheim Award for Translation;, playwright and screenwriter Guadalís Del Carmen for the 2024 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, and a posthumous award to novelist, critic, and playwright Maryse Condé for the 2024 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. Condé died on April 2.

 

 

A group of current and former PEN America staffers reached out to Lit Hub earlier today with a statement on the cancellation of the awards: 

…the community of writers who have been protesting PEN America and urging the finalists and winners of various PEN literary awards to withdraw have achieved their goal. PEN America has been compelled to cancel its April 29th Literary Awards. This is about to be announced. Too many of the finalists and winners withdrew to make it possible to go forward.

We, a significant number of current and former staff, including many of those working to unionize PEN America as well as more senior employees who are managers, stand with those writers. We are sorry we are not signing our names to this declaration and realize how ironic that is for employees of a free expression organization. We would have liked to send this statement under our names in order to more clearly stand with these writers, but we fear retaliation and for some of us that would have very serious consequences.

We also want to be clear that we fervently hope that things change and that PEN America and these wonderful, talented writers can come back together in the future, so that we at PEN America can again celebrate them and their work, and can also work together with them to condemn the suppression of free expression and the killing of writers, including an extraordinary number of journalists, in Gaza just as elsewhere, and with as much force, outrage and impact.

 

Despite a shrinking program, the 20th incarnation of the PEN America World Voices Festival remains scheduled to take place in NYC and LA from May 8-16.

The PEN America Literary Gala—which this year will be hosted by Seth Meyers and honor Paul Simon—also remains scheduled to go ahead as planned at the Museum of Natural History in New York City on the evening of May 16.



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