PEN America Axes 2024 Awards Ceremony Over Gaza Protests

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for PEN America
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for PEN America

Writers group PEN America has canceled its 2024 literary awards ceremony following months of protests by pro-Palestine writers who criticized its stance on Gaza as milquetoast and too sympathetic to Israel.

Instead of holding the planned April 29 Manhattan event, PEN America released the names of its finalists and winners. Some authors had chosen to withdraw their names from consideration in the nominee pool, but PEN said they had selected winners before the exits were made.

In a release, the organization’s Literary Programming Chief Officer, Rosaz Shariyf, called it a “very difficult decision” not to move forward with the public celebration.

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

Winners who chose not to withdraw their names will still receive cash prizes, PEN said, but winners who withdrew will not. Typically, its 20 prizes together amount to about $350,000 in cash.

Twenty-eight of the 61 total nominees withdrew their names, including nine of the ten nominees for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, the organization said. Jean Stein’s estate, citing the late author’s “passionate advocacy for Palestinian rights,” directed PEN America to give the $75,000 prize to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund instead. It was unclear if PEN would honor that request.

Since Oct. 7, writers have called on the organization to support an immediate ceasefire and denounce the deaths of journalists, novelists, poets, and academics in Gaza, some of whom were allegedly targeted because of their occupations. (As of April 22, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 97 journalists and media workers among the dead in Gaza, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinian.)

In a letter signed last week by dozens of nominees and addressed to PEN’s leadership, the authors accused the organization of “disgraceful inaction” on Gaza. They accused it of “perpetuating false equivalences” while Israel enacts a “genocide” of Palestinians.

In March, a group of prominent writers including Naomi Klein and Michelle Alexander, announced their withdrawal from the PEN World Voices Festival over its silence on a ceasefire. They accused PEN of “betraying” its commitment to free expression in doing so.

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