New York, NY, March 19, 2009—PEN American Center, the 3400-member association of literary writers, editors, and translators, announced yesterday the election of Kwame Anthony Appiah, the acclaimed scholar, author, and critic, as its next president. Mr. Appiah succeeds the noted novelist, short story writer, and essayist Francine Prose, who has served as the group’s leader for the past two years.

Commenting on his election, Appiah said, “I am very honored to have been elected to the PEN presidency. Everything we do flows from the central mission we share with PEN centers around the planet, and that is to work together to sustain the literary cultures of the world. We should pursue this grand aim with determination but also with modesty, because we share our work with many others. With other human rights organizations, we spread the essential skills of reading and writing; with publishers and culture ministries, we support translation and bring writers from abroad for our festival of World Voices; with other literary organizations, we recognize, through prizes, the best work of our fellow writers; and, above all, we share the task of sustaining literary culture with readers and writers everywhere.”

Kwame Anthony Appiah grew up in Ghana and in England. Since receiving a B.A. and a Ph.D. in philosophy at Cambridge University, he has taught in the United States, most recently at Princeton University, where he is professor of philosophy. Among his works are three mystery novels and a variety of works in philosophy and cultural studies, some relatively technical and some addressed to a wider reading public; among the latter is Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. He reviews regularly for the New York Review of Books and has spoken often in public lectures in Europe, Africa, and the Americas about topics in literature, philosophy, and African and African American studies. From 1996 to 2003, he was Chairman of the Freedom to Write Committee of the PEN American Center, and he co-edited the Dictionary of Global Culture and Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African American Experience. Professor Appiah is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and chairs the Board of the American Council of Learned Societies. He is currently working on two books, one about honor, and the other about the idea of the West.

Outgoing PEN President Francine Prose hailed the election: “As chair of the Freedom to Write Committee, Kwame Anthony Appiah played a critical role in building our free expression program to its current level of international importance and recognition. He has been an eloquent and influential spokesman for the cultural cosmopolitanism which PEN has long embraced in the literary sphere.  We are indeed fortunate to have him as our new president.” 

Francine Prose served as president of PEN American Center from March 2007 to March 2009. Prior to that, she was a trustee of the organization (1999–2004), vice president (2004–2005), and, in 2003, she also co-founded PEN’s Core Freedoms Campaign. Prose is the author of many books, including A Changed Man, Blue Angel, Hunters and Gatherers, Bigfoot Dreams, Primitive People, and seven other novels; two story collections; and a collection of novellas, Guided Tours of Hell. In 2007, her novel The Glorious Ones was adapted into a musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Her most recent novel, Goldengrove, was published in September 2008. Her nonfiction books include Sicilian Odyssey, Gluttony, and most recently, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and numerous other publications. She is a contributing editor at Harper’s, writes regularly on art for The Wall Street Journal, and is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities. The winner of Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, two NEA grants, and a PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize, she was a Director’s Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Arizona, the University of Utah, and the Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers’ conferences. She currently teaches at Bard College and in The New School’s “Writing and Democracy” Program. 

LJK Literary Management founder Laurence J. Kirshbaum will serve as executive vice president, and authors A.M. Homes and Jessica Hagedorn as vice presidents; also serving as officers are international literary consultant Maria Campbell (treasurer) and author Roxana Robinson (secretary). Among those newly elected as PEN trustees are: Barbara Thompson Davis, Steven Pleshette Murphy, John Oakes, Susanna Reich, and Danielle Truscott. >> See the full board list

PEN American Center is the U.S. arm of the world’s oldest international literary and human rights organization. International PEN was founded in 1921 as a direct response to the ethnic and national divisions that contributed to the outbreak of the First World War. Its mission remains the advancement of literature, the defense of free expression, and the promotion of international literary fellowship. PEN American Center was founded in 1922 and is the largest of the 144 PEN centers in 102 countries that constitute International PEN. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the contributions to defending human rights of such past members as W.H. Auden, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Eugene O’Neill, Salman Rushdie, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck.

PEN American Center’s chief programs include:

• Freedom to Write, which campaigns for writers who are imprisoned, endangered, or persecuted for their work and defends the freedom of the written word wherever it is threatened;

• The Campaign for Core Freedoms, which fights post–9/11 threats to free expression and human rights in the United States;

• PEN World Voices Festival, which showcases the world’s finest writers in events including conversations, performances, readings, and panels together with their American counterparts for an exciting cross-cultural celebration of the written word;

• The Readers & Writers program, which brings young people into contact with outstanding literature and the individuals who create it through panels, high school writing and reading workshops; and the Summer Writing Institute for ages 14–18;

• The PEN Literary Awards, which is the most comprehensive awards program in the country, offering over $100,000 each year to fiction writers, poets, translators, children’s authors, biographers, nonfiction writers, playwrights, and editors;

• The Translation Program, which seeks to support the work of literary translators, give a greater voice to translators in the publishing world, and increase appreciation for translators’ contribution to international literary fellowship and the spread of world literature; and

• The Prison Writing Program, which introduces inmates across the country to writing as a skill that can be practiced, furnishing instructional materials and providing an audience through the PEN Prison Writing Awards. 

For additional remarks from President Appiah, visit his web page.

Michael Roberts (212) 334-1660, ext. 103, mroberts@pen.org