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PEN America calls off awards ceremony

Group criticized over its response to Israel-Hamas war

By HILLEL ITALIE, Associated Press
Published: April 27, 2024, 5:53am

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 poetry, continuing with the ceremony at The Town Hall in Manhattan proved unworkable.

Among those dropping out was debut novel finalist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, wife of former PEN president Salman Rushdie.

“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.

The cancellation comes as tensions over the war have spread throughout the country, from college campuses to political events to roadways, which at times have been blocked by protesters everywhere from Illinois to California.

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 responded by citing that it has condemned the loss of life in Gaza, called for a cease-fire and 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.