Less than a week after canceling its 2024 Literary Awards ceremony following months of steadily mounting criticism over the organization's response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, PEN America has also canceled what would have been the 20th edition of its World Voices Festival. Both cancellations were made in the wake of a series of withdrawals from awards consideration—along with award refusals, in the case of World Voices cofounder Esther Allen—and from participation in the festival by an unprecedented number of authors.

The organization's third tentpole spring event, the PEN America Literary Gala, is currently slated to proceed as planned on May 16. A representative of PEN America also confirmed that the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, and PEN Open Book Award—which were to be announced on a different, as-yet-unannounced timeline from the now-canceled awards ceremony—are also still proceeding as planned.

In recent weeks, PEN America's leadership has made some efforts to reconcile with its critics, including committing to conduct a "review" of PEN’s work "going back a decade." Moreoever, in the recent release announcing the cancellation of World Voices, PEN America’s chief officer of literary programming, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, pledged to host a town hall in the near future "to create a space to wrestle with the issues gripping the literary community and our own organization."

Stille, those efforts at reconciliation came even as PEN America continued to push back against those same critics. “We greatly respect those writers who have followed their consciences," Rosaz Shariyf said in a statement included in the release, "and stand with those who felt compelled to this decision by virtue of the pressures they faced.”

In her own statement from the release, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel—who has been specifically mentioned in much of the criticism of the organization, especially of late—characterized recent critique as "a campaign that casts our struggle to reflect complexity, uphold our identity as a big tent organization, and show fealty to our principles as a moral abdication." She added: "The perspective that engaging with those who hold a different point of view constitutes an impermissible act of legitimization negates the very possibility of dialogue. It also betrays the essence of PEN’s charter and mission to dispel hatreds and engage writers and literature as a catalyst for empathy and a bridge toward common ground.”

On Friday, PEN America also shared on X (formerly Twitter) a thread paraphrasing an article in the Atlantic, written by Gal Beckerman, which characterized the recent criticism of the organization as being rooted in "a sense of righteousness that is impossible to contain within an organization built on the 'right to disagree'" and described PEN as "an organization that sees itself as above politics." In response to the thread, some writers on X pointed to the organization's stated commitment to human rights, advocacy for Ukraine amid Russia's invasion, and criticism of book banning in the U.S. as examples of its political involvements.

A sympathetic op-ed in the New York Times, written by former New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul, also prompted a response further indicating divisions in the literary world over how literary organizations should address issues related to the war in Gaza. After Paul called, in the piece, the website Literary Hub "the de facto clearinghouse for pro-Palestinian literary-world sentiment," Dan Sheehan, the editor-in-chief of Lit Hub vertical Book Marks and currently the site's lead writer on issues related to Israel and Palestine, joked on X that Lit Hub might produce a tote bag touting that characterization.

A number of authors and organizations that have criticized PEN America, meanwhile, have begun planning programming of their own. On May 7 at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, the Palestine Festival of Literature, Writers Against the War on Gaza, and Amplify Palestine will hold an event, "Freedom to Write for Palestine," featuring some of the writers who have withdrawn from PEN America's now-canceled programming. The event will raise funds for the Palestinian nonprofit We Are Not Numbers.