PEN America

Championing the freedom to write and recognizing the transformative power in creative expression

Grantee Cohort Fall 2019, Spring 2018, Spring 2020

Location National

“Our nation’s overflowing prisons and jails are a hotbed of public health and human rights violations on any regular day …The pandemic has challenged any lingering notion that our humanity can be extricated from those locked away—pushing beyond the realm of morality, mass incarceration has urgent and inarguable implications for us all.” – Caits Meissner, program director, Prison and Justice Writing at PEN America, discussing COVID-19 Behind Bars; April 2020 (PEN)

PEN America is a nationwide community of more than 7,500 members—novelists, journalists, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights and other writing professionals— working together to carry out the organization’s mission of championing the freedom to write and recognizing the transformative power in creative expression. 

For more than four decades, PEN America’s Prison Writing Program has supported and amplified the writing of thousands of incarcerated authors by providing free resources, writing mentorships, a rigorous annual awards program, and opportunities to find new audiences. 

With Art For Justice support, PEN America established the Writing for Justice Fellowship to connect incarcerated writers and those with lived experience of the criminal legal system with esteemed artists, authors and activists to serve as mentors. Fellows from its two cohorts include Art for Justice Fund grantees Reginald Dwayne Betts, Mitchell Jackson, Vivian D. Nixon and C.T. Mexica. With renewed funding, PEN will support a final cohort in 2021 before adapting the fellowship model in 2022 to focus on immersive creative projects for its Fellows.