PEN America calls off awards ceremony after writers drop out over response to Israel-Hamas war

PEN America calls off awards ceremony after writers drop out over response to Israel-Hamas war
  • PublishedApril 24, 2024

Nine of the 10 authors nominated for the Jean Stein book award – which carries a prize of $75,000 – withdrew their work, and the money will now be donated to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

PEN America has called off their annual awards ceremony after nearly half of the authors and translators nominated for a prize withdrew their books from consideration.

The literary and free expression organisation, who hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes each year, had been due to hold the ceremony in New York next week.

“This is a beloved event and an enormous amount of work goes into it, so we all regret this outcome but ultimately concluded it was not possible to carry out a celebration in the way we had hoped and planned,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement Monday.

The decision comes as tensions over the Israel-Hamas war spread across America, with authors affiliated with PEN repeatedly denouncing the organisation for allegedly favouring Israel and downplaying atrocities against Palestinian writers and journalists, since the conflict began last October.

In an open letter published last month, signers criticised PEN for not mobilising “any substantial coordinated support” for Palestinians and for not upholding its mission to “dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one world”.

There have also been calls for top officials at PEN to stand down, in a bid for the organisation to “move forward into a new era”.

PEN says it has condemned the loss of life in Gaza, called for a ceasefire and helped set up a $100,000 (£81,000) emergency fund for Palestinian writers.

A committee is also now being formed by PEN, with the mission to review the organisation’s work over the last decade and make recommendations on how to respond to future conflicts.

More than 34,000 people have been killed, and over 77,000 have been injured in Gaza since the conflict began, according to Gaza’s Hamas-led health ministry.

Israel retaliated after Hamas fighters killed more than 1,000 Israelis and took hundreds of hostages in attacks on 7 October last year.

Among those dropping out was debut novel finalist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, wife of former PEN president Salman Rushdie.

Author Salman Rushdie gestures during a news conference at the Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany
Image:Author Salman Rushdie. Pic: PA

Of the 61 authors and translators nominated for an award, 28 pulled their books from consideration, according to a statement on PEN’s website.

Nine of the 10 authors nominated for the Jean Stein book award – which carries a prize of $75,000 (£61,000) – withdrew their work, leaving just one contender – Camille T Dungy’s Soil.

The prize money will now be donated to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, at the request of the estate for Jean Stein.

A small selection of categories will still be awarded a prize, despite the ceremony not taking place.

The high-profile World Voices Festivals – which were founded by Salman Rushdie 20 years ago – are scheduled to go ahead in May in New York and Los Angeles, despite some of the literary community saying they will boycott the events.

Former PEN presidents, including Rushdie, recently published a letter urging authors to participate in the festival, which was set up following 9/11.

The letter urged: “We believe in PEN America and the festival and urge that, even at a time of discord, readers and writers will once again find a way to come together to jointly quest for insight and inspiration.”

SOURCE: SKYNEWS

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