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PEN America cancels 2024 awards after authors drop out over Gaza
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PEN America cancels 2024 awards after authors drop out over Gaza

The writers group PEN America canceled its 2024 annual awards on Monday, just a week before the ceremony, after facing widespread and mounting criticism over its response to Israel’s war on Gaza.

Sixty-one authors and translators were nominated for awards, but 28 of them withdrew their books from consideration, according to a statement released on Monday.

Nine of 10 authors nominated for the PEN/Jean Stein book award, including Maya Binyam and Camonghne Felix, withdrew from consideration.

“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,” Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the literary and free expression organization, said in a statement on Monday.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, literary programming chief officer, added that it had been a difficult decision to cancel.

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

“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. As an organization dedicated to freedom of expression and writers, our commitment to recognizing and honoring outstanding authors and the literary community is steadfast.”

The decision followed intense and escalating protests demanding that the organization take a more forceful stance on the Palestinian plight and demand a ceasefire in Gaza following Israel’s military offensive in the territory, in response to the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel last October.

The daughters of the late US author and editor Jean Stein, the editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and actor and producer Wendy vanden Heuvel, and the literary agent Bill Clegg issued a statement on behalf of the foundation and Stein’s literary estate.

It said: “Jean Stein was a passionate advocate for Palestinian rights who published, supported, and celebrated Palestinian writers and visual artists.”

It continued: “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.”

The estate requested that PEN America donate the $75,000 award to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

Camille Dungy’s Soil was the only remaining Stein award contender.

Naomi Klein, a Guardian columnist, was among a prominent group of writers including Michelle Alexander and Zaina Arafat who last month signed an open letter to PEN America in which they announced their decision not to participate in this year’s PEN World Voices Festival.

“In the context of Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza, we believe that PEN America has betrayed the organization’s professed commitment to peace and equality for all, and to freedom and security for writers everywhere,” the letter read.

PEN has responded by citing that it has condemned the loss of life in Gaza, called for a ceasefire and helped set up a $100,000 emergency fund for Palestinian writers.

Esther Allen, who translated Antonio di Benedetto’s The Silentiary and Zama, as well as the short story writers Nick Mandernach and Kelly X Hui, have also withdrawn from the annual awards.

The PEN America literary awards recognize voices in literature, including writers of fiction, poetry, children’s literature, and drama. Prizes to writers and translators total almost $350,000.

PEN America’s president, Jennifer Finney Boylan, announced last week 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”.

The award ceremony would have taken place on 29 April at the Town Hall in New York City.

Source: theguardian.com