PEN America Cancels Awards Following Writers’ Boycott Over Palestine

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In recent months, PEN America has received a lot of criticism over being perceived as not taking a strong stance for Palestinian writers. Over a thousand writers signed an open letter saying, in part, “We demand PEN America release an official statement about the 225 poets, playwrights, journalists, scholars and novelists killed in Gaza and name their murderer: Israel, a Zionist colonial state funded by the U.S. government.”

Following this, roughly half of the writers nominated for PEN America awards withdrew from consideration, including nine of the ten nominees for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, which comes with a $75,000 prize.

After the withdrawal of so many writers, PEN America has announced it has cancelled the 2024 awards ceremony just one week before it was scheduled to be held — on April 29th in Town Hall in New York City. Some of the awards will still be given out: the winners had already been selected before writers withdrew, so the categories where the winning author did not withdraw will still be awarded as usual.

The Literary Estate of Jean Stein, which funds the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, will donate this year’s $75,000 prize to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. The estate, represented by her daughters and literary agent, said,

“[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of the highest literary achievement, we know she would have respected the stance and sacrifice of the writers who have withdrawn from contention this year.”

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