Letters from America

Eskinder Nega Released from Unwarranted Detention

In February we ran an article ( https://literati-magazine.com/2018/02/14/hot-off-the-press-2/ ) in support of Pen America regarding Eskinder Nega initial release. He was re-arrested shortly afterward.

Here is the updated story from Pen America, New York:


Eskinder Nega, the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award honoree, was among a group of individuals detained on March 25 for gathering in defiance of the current state of emergency, and for displaying a banned Ethiopian national flag. The group included a number of individuals who had only recently been freed from prison; Eskinder was released on February 14 after almost seven years in prison, charged under harsh anti-terrorism laws after he criticized the government’s arrest of journalists and activists. Last week he spoke out from detention about the inhumane conditions in which he and his fellow prisoners were being held.

Eskinder Nega’s re-arrest came on the heels of the February 15 resignation of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who was responsible for the pardons of more than 700 political prisoners. Following Desalegn’s departure, a state of emergency was declared which includes provisions to limit the rights of free expression, prohibits criticism of the State of Emergency Proclamation itself, and prevents federal and regional media outlets from reporting on the state of emergency without prior authorization.

Eskinder Nega’s release from custody, along with more than a dozen other activists, bloggers, and journalists, comes as a relief after 12 days of unwarranted detention.

“We are deeply relieved by Eskinder’s release after this cruel and unjust detention,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America.

“The current state of emergency in Ethiopia is being used to crush freedom of expression and dissent, but Eskinder has shown that he will not be silenced. This time, he and his fellow journalists and activists must remain free. The world will be watching.”



In further news on artists’ resistance to order from The White House . . .

Coalition of Arts Groups  Resists Third Iteration of Trump Travel Ban

PEN America and 32 other prominent arts organizations ​have come together to jointly file a friend of the court brief in the case of State of Hawaii v. Trump, urging the Supreme Court to strike down the third iteration of the Trump travel ban issued on September 27, 2017.  

Arts organizations including the Sundance Institute, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Americans for the Arts, and the Performing Arts Alliance argue that the travel ban violates Americans’ First Amendment right “to receive information by preventing our citizens from hearing and interacting with the ideas and viewpoints of nationals of the targeted countries.”

The brief also highlights the numerous contributions that immigrants, refugees, and visitors to the United States have made to its culture and to advancing knowledge, stating “It is no coincidence—but rather an animating principle—that refugees have created many of the works that define what it means to be an American.” 

Executive Order (EO) 13780 bans all immigration from six majority Muslim countries, places additional visa restrictions on nationals of Syria, Iran, Libya, Yemen, and Chad, and includes token restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela. This brief follows an earlier amicus PEN America filed to challenge an earlier version of the travel ban last fall, and reflects a continued effort to bring attention to the travel ban’s threat to the free flow and exchange of ideas that are critical to freedom of expression, and are also protected under the First Amendment.   

“By preventing travel to the U.S. by individuals from targeted countries, the ban essentially silences those people’s voices for Americans, and disregards the fundamental role that immigrant voices and the international exchange of ideas have long played in the American cultural landscape,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s Senior Director of Free Expression Programs;  “the right to free speech also requires the right to receive information, and, in addition to its many other cruelties, this Executive Order places a unreasonable and unnecessary limit on the perspectives Americans have the ability to hear. Indeed, it is these voices in particular—from countries enduring conflict and those so often held up as the ‘other’ by our own leadership—that we most need as part of our cultural and artistic dialogue in this country today.”  

For artistic, literary, and cultural organizations for whom the arts are a means to celebrate our universality and our common humanity, the ban is an attack on their very missions and reason for existing, and disregards the American tradition of serving as a haven for artists and other creatives who are persecuted elsewhere. It is precisely these people— the Syrian dancer targeted by ISIS, the Yemeni writer or Libyan painter driven from their homes by war— who should be free to find solace and a welcoming artistic community in the United States.  

In addition to lead amicus PEN America, the brief was joined by:

Americans for the Arts
BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
CASH Music
Chamber Music America
Children’s Museum of Manhattan
CIMAM (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art)
College Art Association
Content Creators Coalition
Fractured Atlas
Future of Music Coalition
Guitar Mash
Institute of Contemporary Art
Index on Censorship
International Association of Art Critics (AICA) International Committee on Censorship
National Alliance of Musical Theater
National Coalition Against Censorship
Network of Ensemble Theaters
New England Foundation for the Arts
OPERA America
Performing Arts Alliance
Sundance Institute
Teachers and Writers Collaborative
Theatre Communications Group
Trudel MacPherson
Vera List Center for Art and Politics
Western Arts Alliance
Yerba Buena Gardens Festival


Updates on the progress of these proceedings will follow as developments unfold.


In more uplifting news;

Debut Author Weike Wang Wins $25,000 PEN/Hemingway Award for “Elliptical Prose” in Chemistry.



Debut author Weike Wang won the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award, honoring a distinguished first book of fiction, for her novel Chemistry (Knopf), PEN America announced today. Seán Hemingway, the grandson of Ernest Hemingway, will present the prestigious literary award to Weike Wang on Sunday, April 8, at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

This year’s judges—authors Chris CastellaniGeraldine Brooks, and Elizabeth Strout—praised Chemistry; a first-person narrative of a graduate chemist’s personal and professional indecision, both devastating and liberating, and told almost entirely in the present tense, as a “brilliant book” written in “elliptical prose, spare and clean as bone.”

Weike Wang will receive $25,000 underwritten by the Hemingway Family Prize and the Hemingway Foundation; a month-long Residency Fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers; and a residency from The Distinguished Visiting Writers Series at the University of Idaho’s MFA Creative Writing Program, and a $5,000 stipend.

“That the PEN/ Hemingway Award should be conferred upon such a young author, and one whose debut work lays bare a searing vulnerability, is a testament to the promise of her writing and its place in the literary mainstream,” said Literary Awards Program Director Nadxieli Nieto. “Given the life-changing nature of the PEN/ Hemingway Award and the trajectories of previous winners, Weike Wang is joining the ranks of some of the most groundbreaking figures in literature.”

Weike Wang is a graduate of Harvard University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry in 2011, and her doctorate in public health. She received her MFA from Boston University. A “5 Under 35” honoree of the National Book Foundation and a winner of the Whiting Award, Wang currently lives in New York City. Wang joins other notable PEN/Hemingway winners and honorees including Marilynne Robinson, Edward P. Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Colson Whitehead, Jennifer Haigh, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Ha Jin, Junot Díaz, Yiyun Li, Teju Cole, and Ottessa Moshfegh—a four-decade lineage of literary excellence founded in 1976 by Mary Hemingway, the widow of Ernest Hemingway, to honor her late husband and draw attention to first books of fiction.

(See the complete list here.)

The two PEN/Hemingway runners-up are Lisa Ko for The Leavers (Algonquin) and Adelia Saunders for Indelible (Bloomsbury). Two writers will receive Honorable Mention: Curtis Dawkins for The Graybar Hotel (Scribner, Simon and Schuster) and Ian Bassingthwaighte for Live from Cairo (Scribner, Simon and Schuster). Runners-up and Honorable Mentions each receive a Residency Fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming.

The PEN/Hemingway Award Ceremony is supported by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the Hemingway Family, the Friends of the Ernest Hemingway Collection, and Mary & Kurt Cerulli.

The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library spans Hemingway’s entire career, and contains ninety percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis described Mary Hemingway’s gift of Ernest Hemingway’s papers to the Kennedy Library as helping “to fulfill our hopes that the Library will become a center for the study of American civilization, in all its aspects.”

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is one of 14 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and is supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.

The PEN/Hemingway Award Ceremony will take place on Sunday, April 8, from 2 to 3pm and is free and open to the public.

Those interested in attending should call the Kennedy Library at (617) 514-1643 or register on-line at www.jfklibrary.org to reserve a seat.


Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal …



Following the release of details regarding Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel issued the statement below.

Find out more about PEN America’s position  here on personal data and privacy, the protection of open discourse, and the transparency and accountability online platforms owe their users.

“This week’s revelations about the uncontrolled flow of consumer data from Facebook to unscrupulous influence peddlers determined to manipulate voters in the United States and abroad have jolted the public into really recognizing that platforms we delight in for communication and connection can pose grave risks to our privacy, our discourse, and our democracy. That company and other leading platforms need to be far more aggressive in protecting data, vetting their business partners and customers, and offering the public the transparency and accountability necessary to restore trust. While Americans have the choice to forswear Facebook in favor of other channels, elsewhere in the world it is virtually the only route to online access. Having secured its own ubiquity and preeminence, Facebook now owes it to the public to prove that it is worthy of the position it has staked.”



and PEN America pens a report warning against  China’s Tightening Grasp on Social Media Offers a Potent Tool of Repression for President-for-Life Xi Jinping . . .

PEN America announced the release of Forbidden Feeds: Government Controls on Social Media in China,

offering a detailed analysis of digital rights today and a chilling preview of their future in China.  The 90+-page research report demonstrates how the government’s grip on social media constricts free expression in China, and how the scope and severity of censorship has expanded under President Xi Jinping.

With an increasing array of technological, legal, and ideological tools at the government’s disposal, Beijing is ever more able and willing to systematically erase expressions of dissent and calls for social change, silencing internet users who dare cross ever-shifting red lines, and shutting off channels of circumvention under the banner of “cyber sovereignty.” The report takes a particular look into how these constraints burden writers and other creative professionals, as the government wields its power to ensure no one becomes so popular and nothing goes so viral on social media as to slip beyond the state’s control.

“China has managed to offer its citizens a lively social media universe that is heavily policed and has successfully choked off social media’s promise as a vehicle for free social, political, and creative expression,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “Chinese authorities have managed to prove wrong the hopeful notion that the rise of a vibrant digital realm would inevitably herald greater ideological and political freedom. Despite the ceaseless and inventive efforts of Chinese netizens to evade government censors, the systematic erasure of sensitive subjects and dissenting views, and the targeting of those who express them ultimately leaves those who speak truth to power forced to self-censor and withdraw from conversation, if not leave the country entirely. Chinese social media companies have no choice but to play an active role in enabling this system of repression—something American social media companies weighing entry into the Chinese market should bear in mind, while the choice is still theirs.”

Based on extensive interviews with writers, poets, artists, activists, and others personally affected by the government’s grip on online expression, as well as interviews with anonymous employees at Chinese social media companies, Forbidden Feeds lays bare the destructive impact of the Chinese government’s vision of “cyber sovereignty” on netizens who dare to dissent. The report also includes an Appendix that documents 80 cases of Chinese citizens warned, threatened, detained, interrogated, fined, and even imprisoned for online posts over the past six years. The wide-ranging content of these posts, which touch on everything from Tiananmen Square to issues such as land rights and local corruption, demonstrates the ruthless enforcement of information control and the heightened risks facing those who dare test ever-evolving methods and powers of censorship.

In Forbidden Feeds, PEN America argues that the Chinese government engages in political censorship under the guise of countering so-called “online rumors,” promoting a definition of fake news driven more by political control than regard for the truth. Online censorship is also used to protect the reputations of powerful individuals, as well as to ensure no social media figures gain so great a following as to pose a threat. As Xi Jinping extends and consolidates his rule, China offers a chilling blueprint to other authoritarian governments aspiring to implement total information control. The report also notes, however, that China’s foresight about the risks social media would pose to the party’s hegemony has allowed them to construct a unique system of control that may prove alarmingly sustainable.

As well as analyzing the impact of China’s sophisticated surveillance and censorship mechanisms on Chinese social media companies and their users, Forbidden Feeds considers the trade-offs facing foreign social media and technology companies as they consider entry into the Chinese market. PEN America argues that, should they choose to enter, the government’s uncompromising policies would inevitably render these companies complicit in surveillance and censorship.

Forbidden Feeds offers recommendations to the governments of China and the United States, members of the international community, and private social media companies, urging them each in their capacities to commit to ensuring free and open expression online and to ending the practices of or refusing to comply with online surveillance and censorship that flies in the face of universal rights to free expression and international law.

The report is available here.


Ms Egen
Novelist Jennifer Egan named as New President of PEN AMerica  and Announces Coast-to-Coast Unification

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan has become the new president of PEN America, taking leadership of the organization of writers as it mobilizes against mounting dangers for free expression rights in the United States and worldwide. PEN America also announced the completion of a planned unification with an existing PEN center in Los Angeles that will become a new West Coast hub for the organization.

Egan succeeds Andrew Solomon, the writer, journalist and lecturer who has led PEN America for the past three years through significant expansion of its work to celebrate and defend free expression, including through the amplification of lesser heard voices and the fostering of dialogue across geographic and ideological bounds.  Over the last year PEN America has expanded its membership to include representation in all 50 states and activities in more than 14 U.S. cities.

“The power and meaning of the written word are central to the complexities we face today—both as a nation, and globally. To my mind, freedom of expression is a basic human right.  I’m honored to uphold and act as a steward of this right, and of PEN America’s mission.’’

PEN America has concluded its consolidation with the former PEN Center USA, a California organization whose members overwhelmingly ratified  the national unification in a vote that concluded a couple of weeks ago. With a combined membership of more than 7,000 writers, journalists, screen and script writers, translators, editors, agents and their allies, and offices in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, PEN America is the largest of the 100-plus centers that make up the PEN International network.

Miss Egan has been a PEN America Trustee since 2013. She is the author most recently of Manhattan Beach, awarded the Carnegie Medal for literary excellence in fiction in February. Her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She will work in partnership with Suzanne Nossel, who is now Chief Executive Officer, after serving as PEN America’s Executive Director since 2013

“Amid mounting daily affronts to free speech and open discourse, we turn to the imagination, narrative and creative inspiration as wellsprings to fuel our defense against assaults on expression, facts and truth.’’ A writer both renowned and beloved, Jennifer Egan ’s consummate skill, insight and humanity make her a perfect leader for PEN America at a time when our mission faces grave challenge.”


A full listing of new members is available here.

PEN America also announced its 2018 Board of Trustees, which includes three incoming members from the former PEN Center USA in Los Angeles.



Literati Magazine extends its congratulations to both Ms Nossel and Miss Egan as well as all those newly appointed to new roles. We wish everyone and PEN, every success in their challenging endeavours.

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