PEN America awards called off after writers' Gaza boycott

An image shows participants in last years award gala
[Getty Images]

Prominent literary group PEN America has cancelled its annual award ceremony after dozens of nominated writers withdrew in protest of the war in Gaza.

The group, which is dedicated to free expression, announced on Monday that it was cancelling next week's event.

Nine of the ten writers nominated for a PEN book award had withdrawn from the contest because of its alleged lack of support for Palestinian writers.

The move comes amid a growing protest movement in the US in support of Gaza.

Of the 61 authors and translators nominated for a prize, 28 withdrew their books from consideration, according to a statement from the group.

"This is a beloved event and an enormous amount of work goes into it, so we all regret this outcome but ultimately concluded it was not possible to carry out a celebration in the way we had hoped and planned," said CEO Suzanne Nossel.

PEN America's Literary Programming Chief Officer, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, added: "We greatly respect that writers have followed their consciences, whether they chose to remain as nominees in their respective categories or not."

"We regret that this unprecedented situation has taken away the spotlight from the extraordinary work selected by esteemed, insightful and hard-working judges across all categories," she added.

A series of open letters signed by PEN nominees in recent weeks have criticised the group for allegedly choosing sides against Gaza in the war that started after the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel.

"In the context of Israel's ongoing war on Gaza, we believe that PEN America has betrayed the organization's professed commitment to peace and equality for all, and to freedom and security for writers everywhere," said one letter signed last month by several famous writers including Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein and Zaina Arafat.

The writers argued that the group was acting as a "cultural front for American exceptionalism" and was complicit in "normalizing genocide".

Israel rejects the charge that it is guilty of genocide. For many of its citizens and supporters it is grotesque and offensive to allege that the state created after Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust is itself committing genocide.

PEN says it condemns loss of life in Gaza and has created a $100,000 (£81,000) fund for Palestinian writers.

The awards ceremony was due to be held on 29 April.