Due to PEN America's Israel-Hamas war position, several writers deny recognition.

New York — Several authors have declined PEN America awards and nominations because of their disagreement with the Gaza war. PEN released its long lists for the $75,000 Jean Stein Award for best book and the $10,000 PEN/Hemingway Award for first novel this week. Jean Stein nominee Camonghne Felix, poetry finalist Eugenia Leigh, and short story nominee Ghassan Zeineddine have requested withdrawal.  

Felix, author of the memoir “Dyscalculia,” stated on X, “I decided to decline this recognition and asked to be removed from the long list in solidarity with the ongoing protest of PEN’s continued normalization and denial of genocide  

Writer-comedian Jena Friedman will host the honors on April 29 in Manhattan. Nine of 60 shortlisted authors requested withdrawal, according to PEN. PEN also revealed that Esther Allen had declined the PEN/Ralph Manheim Award for translation and would soon select a new winner.  

PEN literary programming manager Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf said, “We respect their decision and we will celebrate these writers in other ways”. After Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, writers have criticized PEN for failing to condemn Israel's invasion of Gaza, which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of writers, academics, and journalists.  

An open letter signed by Naomi Klein, Lorrie Moore, and dozens of others in March claims that PEN had not “launched any substantial coordinated support” for Palestinians and was not fulfilling its mission to “dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one world.” The letter's signatories criticized PEN for failing to “mobilize” members against the Gaza war despite its strong protests against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

“Palestine’s poets, scholars, novelists and journalists and essayists have risked everything, including their lives and their families, to share their words with the world,” the letter says. “Yet PEN America appears unwilling to stand with them firmly against the powers that have oppressed and dispossessed them for 75 years.”  

PEN has called for a ceasefire, mourned the loss of Gaza's museums, libraries, and mosques, and helped set up a $100,000 emergency fund for Palestinian writers, according to a representative. According to PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, many writers, poets, artists, and journalists felt grief and anguish at the awful expenses of the Israel-Hamas war.  

She continued, “We approach every conflict — Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Gaza — on its own terms, mindful of complexities, what we can contribute, our constituencies, our partners and our principles. We support freedom of expression and its preconditions, not states, militaries, or political groupings.  

Before PEN's spring literary awards and May 16 fund-raiser at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, the critiques surfaced. Klein and the letter's signatories will boycott PEN's “World Voices” festival in Los Angeles and New York next month, which will feature panel discussions and lectures. PEN continues to draw prominent people, including war opponents.  

PEN awarded the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award to playwright-screenwriter Tony Kushner on Friday. Fey, Lonergan, and May have already received the award. Rachel Zegler, a Golden Globe winner for her role as Maria in the 2021 Kushner-Steven Spielberg adaptation of “West Side Story,” and Marcia Gay Harden, who starred in Kushner's 1993-94 Broadway production of “Angels in America,” will present the Nichols award on April 29.  

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