On Saturday, September 19, PEN America sent the following update to Emerging Voices alumni, mentors, and supporters:

Dear Friend,

We are writing to the Emerging Voices community with some good news that we are pleased to share. As we previously let you know, having to cancel our galas and other fundraising events, as well as absorb loss associated with the pandemic and economic crisis, required some tough decisions and changes in order to sustain our organization. That said, in this year in which we’ve come to expect the unexpected, we are elated to share that, late this week, we were able to secure a new commitment, beginning in 2021, from one of our donors to reallocate a portion of their giving. The redirected funds will underwrite efforts to nurture, mentor, and support emerging writers, who have been historically excluded from publishing, through a structured program that will be deeply informed by and will expand upon our Los Angeles-based Emerging Voices Fellowship. Part of the effort will include finding new ways to foster connections between annual participants and program alumni and agents, editors, and publishers. We will also seek lessons learned from other similar efforts, especially those that operate virtually. The vision is a national program operating virtually and, we hope, with some in-person engagement as public health circumstances allow.
We will devote the next few months to extensive consultation and study in order to define an approach that can work nationally and offer the kind of intensive experience that we know has been so important. We very much hope that many of you will participate in that process, as your expertise and knowledge will be invaluable. That consultation and information-gathering effort will be led by Los Angeles office executive director and former EV program manager Michelle Franke and PEN America’s senior director of literary programs Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf in consultation with our Board Literary Committee and other stakeholders. We plan to reach out with opportunities for discussion and consultation in the hopes that you will be willing to share your ideas and participate in the future of this essential work. We also plan to do an optional survey for EV alumni, EV program participants, and other emerging writers coast to coast. Our plan is to outline a way forward, based on our findings, in the first part of 2021. As this generous donation will cover only a portion of expenses associated with this program, fundraising will be ongoing. We are heartened to be able to ensure that the current Emerging Voices hiatus will be a limited one, and we are excited to work together.

There are many details to be addressed in the months to come, but we know that you care deeply about this work, and we wanted to share the positive news.

Very best,

Suzanne Nossel
PEN America CEO

Jennifer Egan
PEN America President

Ayad Akhtar
PEN America Vice President, PEN America President-elect

Michelle Franke
Executive Director, Los Angeles

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf
Senior Director Literary Programs 

August 31, 2020 Update

Thank you for your interest in the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship (EV). Over the past months, we have so appreciated your support and encouragement, and know that you share our deep commitment to ensuring sustained efforts to nurture the careers of those who have been locked out of the literary communities and publishing.

Since March, PEN America has been assessing the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis on every aspect of our work. This includes safety, logistical, and financial implications for each of our programs, and certainly for EV, which has historically operated in-person in Los Angeles. We have made the tough but necessary decision not to open the 2021 fellowship application, due to the constraints on convening a cohort of fellows and the non-renewal of several key grants that have supported the program.

That said, as we use this time to determine how best to move forward with this vital work, we are very pleased to announce that PEN America will be presenting a series of online professional development workshops inspired by elements of the EV program. Recognizing the urgent needs of emerging writers coast to coast, this free and open access workshop series on craft and career issues will be presented in partnership with our PEN Across America initiative and local chapters in cities nationwide. Other updates, including the workshop slate, will be available in early fall.

Our work to determine a path forward will involve several elements. In the coming days, we’re launching a detailed survey of EV participants since 1996 to learn more about the outcomes of the program over time and the current needs of emerging writers. We will assess how we can best connect emerging writers to representation and the publishing industry, leveraging PEN America’s deep networks. We will look at how similar programs supporting emerging writers, both within and outside PEN America, have transitioned to an online learning environment. This inquiry will serve as a foundation for our efforts to secure new funding to support this work.

Like many of our peer organizations, PEN America has been hit by the forced cancellation of in-person fundraising events due to the pandemic. We are also navigating the changing priorities of some donors. Even prior to this year’s challenges, it has been difficult to find consistent funding for the EV program, in part due to the intensive nature of its design. We have scrambled to cover annual costs, and at times have not been able to do so with designated funds. We are determined to use this interim period to examine how we can evolve our offering and put it on solid financial footing. Going forward, the program will require a substantial multi-year funding commitment, beyond short-term donations. Some supporters have reached out about fundraising; we appreciate that and will continue to welcome ideas. We hope that by early 2021 we will be in a position to announce a way forward.

There is an important history on which to build. Since 1996, EV has aimed to provide writers from underrepresented, marginalized communities with the tools they need to launch a professional literary career. EV has served as a hub for the Los Angeles literary community, supporting and championing more than 150 writers who have published 65 books and shorter pieces in 200+ anthologies and journals. Many fellows, in addition to pursuing their own literary careers, have also gone on to make significant creative contributions across the country.

The pandemic has underscored significant gaps in opportunity and wellbeing in the literary community and beyond. With our interim workshop series, we hope to provide the greatest number of writers, especially those from historically excluded communities, the chance to benefit from what EV has historically only offered to a select few. Readers need stories from new and diverse voices, and we hope that demystifying the path to publication results in increased connections, representation, and opportunities.

During a challenging time marked by much uncertainty, and as a part of PEN America’s century of efforts to stand with writers, dissenters, and those advocating for positive change, we’re excited to launch the workshop series, make new friends, see old ones, and open some of the most beloved and helpful components of EV to writers across the country. Sign up to receive updates on the workshop series and other news on PEN America Los Angeles, or follow us online on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and on the Emerging Voices Facebook and Twitter.

For further information, please contact Michelle Franke, executive director, PEN America, Los Angeles at [email protected]

The Emerging Voices Fellowship is a literary mentorship based in Los Angeles that has been providing underrepresented, marginalized writers with the tools they need to launch a professional literary career, since 1996. Examples of these communities include, but are not limited to, women, immigrants, people of color, older people, and those who are members of the LGBTQIA+ communities. Through curated one-on-one mentorship, and introductions to editors, agents, and publishers, in addition to editing, marketing, and web development workshops, the fellowship nurtures creative community, provides a professional skillset, and demystifies the path to publication, with the ultimate goal of diversifying the publishing and media industries.

In 2021, the fellowship will celebrate 25 years. In that time PEN has committed to adapting the fellowship components to meet the changing needs of writers and to reconsider the way we talk about the fellowship. In the past, we have pointed to our list of publications as proof the fellowship works, celebrating books published by alumni like Cynthia Bond, Natashia Deón, and Reyna Grande, among others. While this is a quantifiable measure of success, it fails to take into account those alumni who are still writing but have gone on to do meaningful work in other creative capacities. Alumni like Kima Jones, who founded Jack Jones Literary Arts, an organization that privileges narratives told by black women and women of color; and Victor Vazquez who founded X Casting, which supports projects from people of color, women, & queer creators; and Marytza Rubio, who founded Makara Center for the Arts, a nonprofit lending library & art center in the book desert of Santa Ana. These are just a few examples from a list that could be expanded upon to include professors, workshop instructors, teachers, mentors, and Ph.D. candidates. Please take a moment to look at the full list of fellows and mentors, and a select list of Author Evening hosts in order to better understand the breadth of this thing we call EV.

The 2020 Emerging Voices Fellowship

Meet the 2020 Emerging Voices Fellows and Their Mentors

2020 Emerging Voices Mentors

More about the fellows and mentors »

The Final Reading

Group photo of 2020 Emerging Voices Fellows

During this live, online program presented by the Hammer Museum, the 2020 Emerging Voices Fellows read together for the last time as the culmination of their fellowship experience.

Watch the livestream »
Read the program »

2020 Emerging Voices Fellows’ Essays

“Unwrapping” by Damien Belliveau
“Tiger Heads All the Way Down” by Claire Lin
“Leave Expectations at the Door” by Shannon Gatewood
“The Poetics of Sovereignty: Embracing Self-Determination on the Page” by Megan Dorame
“The Path to Remembering” by M. Kiguwa