PEN America Cancels 2024 Awards Ceremony Amid Criticism Of Org’s Response To Israel-Hamas War

Prominent literary organization PEN America has canceled its annual awards ceremony, which was due to be held next week, after 28 authors chose to withdraw their books from consideration. The group has faced increasing backlash over its response to the Israel-Hamas War. Among those dropping out was debut novel finalist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, wife of former PEN president Salman Rushdie, according to the Associated Press.

Of those withdrawing are also nine out of the 10 authors nominated for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. The Literary Estate of Jean Stein has directed PEN America to donate the $75,000 award to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, representatives said on Monday.

More from Deadline

The decision to cancel the awards comes in the wake of escalating upset against PEN America. A series of open letters signed by PEN nominees in recent weeks have criticized the group for allegedly choosing sides against Gaza in the war that started after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the BBC reported. According to LitHub, more than 1,000 writers and poets have signed an open letter to the organization, calling on it to “find the same zeal and passion that they have for banned books in the U.S. to speak out about actual human beings in Palestine.”

In another letter, released in March, Naomi Klein was among a prominent group of writers who announced they were pulling out of this year’s PEN World Voices Festival saying, “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.”

In a statement released on Monday regarding the cancelation of its awards, PEN America’s Literary Programming Chief Officer Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf said, “We greatly respect that writers have followed their consciences, whether they chose to remain as nominees in their respective categories or not. 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.”

Also on Monday, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Wendy Vanden Heuvel and Bill Clegg, on behalf of the foundation and the Literary Estate of Jean Stein, provided a statement reading, “Jean Stein was a passionate advocate for Palestinian rights who published, supported, and celebrated Palestinian writers and visual artists.  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. To honor their decision the Estate of Jean Stein has directed PEN America to donate the $75,000 award to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.”

Although there will be no ceremony this year, PEN America said it “is honored to recognize the career achievement winners including playwright Tony Kushner for the 2024 PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award.” Rachel Zegler, who starred in the 2021 Kushner-Steven Spielberg adaptation of West Side Story, had been due to present the award during the now-canceled ceremony.

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.