PEN America and PEN Center USA, the East Coast and West Coast American branches of PEN International, will merge under the banner of PEN America, the nonprofits jointly announced on January 8.
The boards of both organizations have voted in favor of unification, but the decision is still pending as it awaits a final vote from PEN Center USA’s membership, which will be asked, in compliance with California law, to ratify the recommendation, as it entails changes to the organization’s bylaws.The two entities are hopeful that the unification process will be complete by March 1, 2018. The newly-united PEN America’s board will still be overseen by current PEN America president Andrew Solomon, and PEN Center USA’s board will be incorporated as well.
“PEN America has invested significantly in building its brand and visibility in recent years and, as the larger of the two organizations, is the logical name for our unified organization,” a FAQ page on the unification on PEN America’s website reads. “Accordingly, in connection with the unification, it is expected that PEN USA will change its name to PEN America Los Angeles.” A spokesperson for PEN America added that, “as far as rebranding goes, we are unifying under the PEN America banner, so our brand, logo, and so on aren’t changing.”
The two organizations were founded separately and have historically been independent of one another, even as they each have worked to advance the parent organization’s missions to defend and celebrate free expression. Founded in 1922, PEN America, which is based in New York but boasts members in 49 states, focuses on literary programs and awards, as well as a robust free expression advocacy program, and also operates a Washington, D.C., office. PEN Center USA, which was founded in 1943 and is based in Los Angeles, offers special programming for writers and and other proponents of free speech who live west of the Mississippi. The combined membership of the two organizations is approximately 6,500.
“The decision to join forces was born of a shared sense of urgency to fortify our collective efforts at a time of unprecedented challenges to free speech here at home,” Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of PEN America, said in a statement. “As a unified organization with strong tent poles on both coasts and a diverse, growing community of writers and readers all across the country, we can speak out more forcefully, mobilize a wider creative community, and mount a more forceful effort to defend free expression, amplify silenced voices, and foster dialogue that transcends differences.”
Under the unification plan, Nossel will continue to lead PEN America nationally alongside an expanded Board of Trustees, including representatives from Los Angeles. Soon-to-be-rebranded PEN Center USA will be helmed by PEN Center USA’s current executive director, Michelle Franke.
“Building on the foundation of PEN Center USA’s deep and longstanding regional roots, we are excited by the opportunities that national reach will afford the communities we serve,” Franke said in a statement. “We look forward to leveraging new capabilities to build our programs and community of activists, members, and supporters, creating an even more engaged, vibrant, and dynamic locus for L.A.-based writers and their allies to mobilize behind our mission.”