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Suzanne Nossel: Opening Letter to Members

Dear PEN Members:

I am writing to introduce myself and to say how honored I am to be joining PEN as its new Executive Director. PEN’s Board of Trustees, President Peter Godwin, my predecessor Steve Isenberg, our dedicated staff, and our members have been wonderfully welcoming to me, and I am looking forward to working closely with all of you.

There is a lot that excites me about PEN, but nothing more than our remarkable core constituency, our members. As I have gotten to know the organization better, I have been struck by how many very distinguished writers from every genre are active in PEN and care deeply about the organization and its mission. In my own informal poll of writers who are part of PEN, I have been thrilled to discover that many are ready to do more. I am eager to work with PEN’s Board and staff, including Membership Director Paul Morris, to explore new and expanded ways to make your involvement in PEN even more rewarding, and to heighten our collective impact as a powerful voice for free expression.

Having worked in the human rights field for many years, I have been impressed by PEN’s role in defending unfettered expression and helping secure the safety and freedom of thousands of threatened writers and thinkers worldwide. I am also convinced that this is a pivotal moment for PEN to amplify the voice of its members in unfolding debates on expression in transitional societies, and online. Writers and intellectuals have played a crucial role in the human rights movement since its inception, and that work has never been more pressing. 

As storytellers, interpreters of history, opinion-leaders, and shapers of the culture across print, theatre, television, film, comedy, and online—PEN’s members collectively have audiences that number in the hundreds of millions. Our global reach through the indigenous PEN centers all over the world has proven its influence, including in some of the world’s most repressive societies. PEN American Center has played a crucial role in supporting the centers abroad, and I see great potential to build on this work.

During the next decade, seminal deliberations and the emergence of new technologies for expression, surveillance, and repression will shape how rights relating to speech, assembly, and privacy can be guaranteed in a wide range of digital platforms and mediums. As the voice of writers and intellectuals in a country that enjoys some of the strongest protections for free expression in the world, PEN is poised to shape these debates, influencing the positions of the U.S. government and civil society and helping to educate and mobilize PEN’s global network. PEN, through its Freedom to Write program, has already begun to develop its expertise in this area, including the 2012 Declaration on Digital Freedom signed by more than 20,000 writers worldwide, and has laid a foundation for expanded contributions.

PEN’s World Voices Festival, the Prison Writing Program, the Translation and Children’s Book Committees, the literary awards, and the dynamic new website at PEN.org, play an irreplaceable role in using literature to increase cross-cultural understanding and to recognize the work and contributions of writers throughout the world. I am looking forward to meeting those most active in each of these areas and exploring ways to enhance our work, including through outreach to under-served communities. PEN’s members, its work, and its mission seem to have a strong hold on nearly everyone who has touched the organization, and I will be looking for ways to deepen ties to our existing supporters and reach out to new ones.

Looking ahead, the challenge will be to build on our history and expertise to unleash even more of PEN’s potential. Amid a slow economic recovery and a crowded nonprofit landscape, strengthening PEN will require dedication and ingenuity. We will need to tap the creativity and energy of our members to capitalize on our unique strengths and make PEN into even more of a force for literature and free expression.

A link to my bio is below. As you can see, I have a strong personal interest in freedom of expression, the promotion and defense of human rights and accountability worldwide, and in women’s rights and advancement. I have also worked in the media industry, where I have seen first-hand the impact of new technologies and methods of distribution on the rights and interests of creative communities, including journalists, writers, publishers, and musicians. 

I look forward to getting to know as many of you as I can in the coming months, and sincerely encourage you to reach out to me with your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions at any time. My PEN email is snossel@pen.org and my door, and inbox, are always open.

Thank you so much for welcoming me to PEN.

Suzanne Nossel
Executive Director
PEN American Center
snossel@pen.org
follow me on twitter @suzannenossel


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