PEN America will open an office in Florida, expanding its presence in the state amid growing book banning and other censorship efforts, and has appointed Katie Blankenship its first ever Florida director.
Blankenship, PEN said, will lead a Florida-based team of two—with plans to grow staff over the next few years—in "an accelerated effort amid the crisis of censorship in Florida public schools and efforts to undermine academic freedom and diversity and inclusion on college campuses." In addition, she will "join PEN America’s team of free expression experts in community engagement, legislative advocacy, and in mobilizing literary activism."
Blankenship comes to PEN from the ACLU of Florida, where she was promoted to deputy legal director six months after joining, in 2021, as a staff attorney on the organization's immigrant rights campaign. In her role as deputy legal director, she ran ACLU of Florida's First Amendment campaign and served as legal counsel on the Pernell v. Lamb case, which led to a preliminary injunction against the so-called Stop WOKE Act.
Florida now has more book bans than any other state, according to PEN America’s data, and accounts for more than 40% of all documented bans. Funding for PEN's efforts in the state comes from a variety of sources including a group of bestselling authors.
“We must fight this battle in the courts, on the streets, in the schools, and at the polls,” Blankenship said. “And I believe Floridians are ready to expand this fight against the silencing of teachers and the erasure of key subjects and history from classrooms, along with book banning. Groups are popping up all over the state to fight back and our statewide coalition is growing by the day.”