PEN America calls off awards ceremony amid criticism over its response to Israel-Hamas war

NEW YORK — Facing widespread unhappiness over its response to the Israel-Hamas war, the writers’ group PEN America has called off its annual awards ceremony. Dozens of nominees had dropped out of the event, which was to have taken place next week.

PEN, a literary and free expression organization, hands out hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes each year, including $75,000 for the PEN/Jean Stein Award for best book. But with nine of the 10 Jean Stein finalists withdrawing, along with nominees in categories ranging from translation to best first book, continuing with the ceremony at The Town Hall in Manhattan proved unworkable.

“This is a beloved event and an enormous amount of work goes into it, so we all regret this outcome but ultimately concluded it was not possible to carry out a celebration in the way we had hoped and planned,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement Monday.

Since the war began last October, authors affiliated with PEN have repeatedly denounced the organization for allegedly favoring Israel and downplaying atrocities against Palestinian writers and journalists. In an open letter published last month, and endorsed by Naomi Klein and Lorrie Moore among others, the signers criticized PEN for not mobilizing “any substantial coordinated support” for Palestinians and for not upholding its mission to “dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one world.”

PEN has repeatedly called for a ceasefire and has helped set up a $100,000 emergency fund for Palestinian writers. Last week, PEN America President Jennifer Finney Boylan announced that a committee was being formed to review the organization’s work, “not just over the last six months, but indeed, going back a decade, to ensure we are aligned with our mission and make recommendations about how we respond to future conflicts.”

PEN’s other high-profile spring events — the World Voices” festivals in New York and Los Angeles, and the gala at the American Museum of Natural History — will go ahead as scheduled, a spokesperson said Monday.

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