PEN New England

PEN new england

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

—George Orwell, 1984

 

PEN New England is a chapter of PEN American Center, part of a global association of writers celebrating literature and defending free expression.

We make our home at the MIT School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences.

The Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award

The prize is awarded in memory of Howard Zinn, renowned writer-activist, and champion of free speech, writers and independent publishers. Zinn was posthumously awarded the 2010 Freedom to Write “Thomas Paine Award” which was then renamed to memorialize his lifelong work and dedication. The “People Speak” award recognizes American writers.

The 2015 Zinn Award:
johnetta elzie & deray mckesson

“OUR DEMAND IS SIMPLE: STOP KILLING US”

Ferguson activists and bloggers Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson shared the 2015 Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award for their work as activists, organizers, and citizen journalists in the Ferguson protest movement. Their reporting and This Is the Movement newsletter engaged and unified disparate voices in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Their activism focused an enraged community, and has been instrumental in transforming a cycle of tragedies into a movement, assuring that the world would not forget the names of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and too many others. 

Elzie and Mckesson’s reporting demonstrates the dedication to justice and equality that Zinn made his life’s mission, and that he referred to specifically in this passage from A Power Governments Cannot Suppress:

“A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress.”

In awarding Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson the 2015 Zinn Award, we recognize their work in speaking truth to power and providing a necessary counterpoint to the mainstream narrative.