PEN USA Freedom to Write Essays

PEN Center USA asked their 2017 Emerging Voices Fellows to answer the question: “What does Freedom to Write mean to you?”

Each EV Fellow discusses the role that freedom of expression, the keystone of PEN Center USA’s mission, has played in their lives as writers, readers, and literary citizens.

photo: Bill Kennedy

From Soleil DavidI come from a people who believe that words can change the world. Even more than that, I come from a people who have proved this. From the struggle for independence from Spain to the overthrow of a dictator, writing has been instrumental to the fall of so many empires. The Philippines is only one of so many examples all over the world. The United States may be on the verge of tyranny, but the good news is that the world has always had the tools to fight. Words can, words will, and words have won against despotic rulers. We just have to be brave enough to write them…

photo: Tyler Coleman

From Jessica Shoemaker: When I was six, my mom gave me a diary. She told me that I could write whatever I wanted in it, and she would never read it. That night I wrote, “Today at school I played with my ball. Me and Bethie roller skated.” I had a friend named Beth, but I never called her Bethie. I just wanted to feel the kind of closeness with somebody that compels a nickname…

photo: Bill Kennedy

From Kirin KhanWhen writers are brave, we make others brave. Authoritarian regimes throughout the world know this—this is why they work so hard to spin and discredit, to hurt us or make us disappear. To shut us up one way or another. Writers are truth-seekers, and authoritarians thrive in misinformation. We are all enemies of the state…

photo: Tyler Coleman

From Chinyere NwodimFreedom. For a long time, I associated the word with physically being unshackled and unrestrained. For a long time, it held no real value because I didn’t understand what it cost to be free. I didn’t realize that freedom needed to be pushed, stretched, and exercised or it would atrophy like an unused muscle…

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photo: Tyler Coleman

From Peter H.Z. HsuThere’s nothing like a book. Its value is unique, a prolonged experience of engagement with the imagination. Those ratty paperbacks weren’t just an escape. There was something tying those stories together—underdogs and victims rising up and embracing their power, loyal friends banding together to face a great and terrible evil. Scared people doing things they were scared to do…

Categorized as Writing

By Pete Hsu

Author of THERE IS A MAN (Tolsun Books) and IF I WERE THE OCEAN, I'D CARRY YOU HOME (Red Hen Press, 2022)

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