NYC Literary Action Coalition
The NYC Literary Action Coalition aims to create an activism network of NYC-based literary members to build the community’s capacity to mobilize on behalf of free expression and social justice issues.
In recent years, PEN America and its allies have mobilized on the steps of the New York Public Library against Chinese censorship, at the Brooklyn Museum for Ai Weiwei, in midtown for Writers Resist on the eve of the Trump inauguration, outside the NFL owners’ association meeting to support #TakeAKnee, and more. These collective stands have a galvanizing power that helps unite our members and allies behind a sense of common purpose and forceful engagement. We have also learned that other organizations in New York’s literary landscape have constituencies looking for ways to take shared, sustained action on the challenging concerns of our day.
Since 2019, PEN America has met with more than 30 literary organizations around the city and facilitated several larger group discussions that confirmed interest in bringing together a more structured NYC Literary Action Coalition prepared for rapid-response mobilizations and longer-term campaigns.
The mission of the Literary Action Coalition is to bring forward the voice and views of the literary community through activism that defends free expression; underscores the power of literature; promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion; and advances social justice. The partners for the coalition include professional literary organizations, community and campus literary groups, independent bookstores and publishers, arts organizations with literary programs, performance spaces, and individual writers and literary professionals.
For more information about the coalition and how to join, please contact PEN America Community Outreach Manager Alejandro Heredia at [email protected].
Asian American Writers Workshop
Center For Fiction
Dominican Writers Association
Fordham Political Review
Harlem Writers Guild
Literary Freedom Project
Morningside Writers Group
Muslim Writers Collective
Currently, the coalition is addressing COVID-19 relief funding by highlighting how the New York City literary community has been impacted by the pandemic and subsequent citywide shutdown. The coalition organized a petition asking Mayor de Blasio’s office to consider the literary community’s needs in the citywide 2020–2021 budget, and continues to raise awareness about the barriers the New York City literary landscape faces in a post-COVID world.
Additionally, the coalition is organizing around addressing issues of racial justice in the literary community through public forums and roundtables.
Decisions are primarily made by the coalition’s advisory committee, made up of six representatives of the coalition who steer decision-making. The advisory committee makes decisions about events, statements, and other public-facing mobilizations that the coalition organizes. The advisory committee cycles every year, and any coalition member can volunteer to be considered for the advisory committee once the current cycle is at its end.
Mobilizations can take the form of petition drives, open letters, demonstrations, rallies, press conferences, meetings with elected or appointed officials, tweet-a-thons, virtual events, etc. They may be in support of an ongoing campaign or more ad hoc, when a specific issue surfaces or event occurs. Some mobilizations are urgent, demanding a rapid response. Others may take the form of an ongoing campaign, with several action steps in support of a goal. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, all of our mobilization efforts have been digital to ensure that coalition members and the literary community at large follow standard protocols as they are set by local officials.
As an example, say the coalition commits to a campaign to ensure access to books in jails—an idea PEN America has developed based on research into widespread prison book bans. The goal of the campaign would be to convince the city to reform its practice of limiting the literature available to people who are incarcerated. The coalition advisory committee might decide on a strategy that includes a petition, an advocacy day and virtual rally on social media, and petition-signing drives at partners’ virtual events around the city. Coalition members might participate in strategy sessions, send the petition and the invitation to the advocacy day and rally to their lists, work to ensure strong turnout at the rally or virtual event, and also feature the petition drive at their public events. Other members might simply commit to signing onto the petition, or sharing information with their networks.
For national organizations, as long as there is a NYC office, chapter, or the group/organization’s work substantially focuses on the NYC literary landscape, the group may be part of the coalition.
Yes. Participation in the coalition can vary on the partner’s availability and interest. You can be part of the coalition and decide to opt out of certain actions because you might not be interested, or because you don’t have the time. Some coalition participants are passive and prefer to show support by sharing information, signing petitions, and staying informed, while others prefer to take a leadership position by leading conversations, panels, and events. There is no singular way to participate in the coalition.