PEN America

  • PEN Center in Thomasin, outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti

  • Haitian authors Jean-Euphele Milce and Emmilie Prophete, with Amy Wilentz in New York City

  • PEN‘s “Reading for Enjoyment” campaign in South Africa

Fostering Freedom of Expression in Haiti and South Africa

“Writing well is like being able to take a blade of grass and blow a symphony on it. A writer is also brave in that he or she is really the person behind every word. And that can get scary because as an individual one is exposing oneself to scorn, indifference and even political repression.”
— Peter von Ziegesar, writer and filmmaker

PEN America supports freedom of expression at home and abroad. PEN advocates for respect of free speech, provides legal and moral support to defend writers arrested and imprisoned because of their work, and advances interest in literature by hosting conferences and events where readers and writers from foreign literary traditions can meet and learn from one another. PEN International was founded in 1921. Its programs and community have been built to defend the freedoms that make a great literature and art possible.

In 2013 the Foundation made a grant in support of a permanent PEN center in Haiti in the sylvan neighborhood of Thomassin, Port-au-Prince. Jean-Euphele Milce is the Director of PEN Haiti’s headquarters which strives to become a destination for established international authors as well as a creative hub for emerging Haitian writers and provides accommodations for eight people. It offers a safe and supportive environment for writers, journalists and activists.

The grant also supports the development of a practical strategic plan to make South African PEN sustainable. PEN South Africa partners with Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”), a South African reading for enjoyment campaign. They are working to translate children’s stories from their original isiZulu, isiXhosa and English into six of South Africa’s national languages.

Both centers host events to encourage literacy and local participation in social and political development.