PEN America has opened six regional chapters across the United States. The new chapters, located in Austin, Tex.; Birmingham, Ala.; Dallas/Fort Worth; Detroit; the Piedmont Region of North Carolina, and Tulsa, Okla., extend the reach of PEN America from three cities to nine, adding to its headquarters in New York and offices in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. The goal of the expansion is to give the organization a more national presence.
Each chapter will be led by local PEN members. The Austin chapter will be headed by author Chaitali Sen and Tim Staley, who leads the Austin Public Library Foundation. Poets Ashley M. Jones and Alina Stefanescu will lead the Birmingham branch. The Dallas/Fort Worth chapter will be led by novelist and scholar Sanderia Faye and Deep Vellum publisher, translator, and bookstore owner Will Evans. In Detroit, writer and social worker Amber Ogden will lead the chapter with PEN America Literary Award Winner, Jonah Mixon-Webster. Writer and performer Deonna Kelli Sayed will head up the PEN America Piedmont Region. And the Tulsa chapter will be led by author and editor Jeff Martin, founder and executive director of the Tulsa Literary Coalition and Magic City Books.
“At a time of exceptional threats to free expression and open discourse, our chapters will bring years of mobilization, activism and organizing among writing communities across the country to the next level. We are exceptionally proud of the local leaders who are driving forward this effort,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. “With 7,500 members across the country and tens of thousands of allies, our movement—called PEN Across America—is pushing back against the breakdown of civil discourse, the marginalization of vital voices, and encroachments on press freedom, driving forward PEN America’s mission at a time when it has never been more essential.’’
The opening of the chapters reflects PEN's decision, following the 2016 presidential election, to "reach beyond the coasts" in order to advocate for free expression. Each chapter will host writers in conversations, advocacy campaigns, public debates, and other expression and writing–related events.
“Readers are my people, and one of the chief delights of going on a book tour is connecting with communities of readers and writers across America,” said PEN America President Jennifer Egan. “I’m proud and thrilled that PEN America is working actively to foster and support literary culture in six critical regions and create a home for writers, readers, and advocates. I look forward to joining with our members to insist upon the cultural and civic value of literary expression, and protect the freedoms that make it possible—locally, nationally, and internationally.”