PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide.

PEN America champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. their mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Prison writing program

"For more than four decades, PEN America’s Prison Writing Program has amplified the writing of thousands of imprisoned writers by providing free resources, skilled mentors, and audiences for their writing. We are proud to share our deepening commitment to confronting our era of mass incarceration with the launch of the 2018 PEN America Writing For Justice Fellowship." Visit their website to get more information.

For information on writing programs in prison across the United States, click here to access the [LIVING DOCUMENT DATABASE.] 


freedom of speech is our most basic & important human right

"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has the power to seize anything that I write for any reason. My play "Freedom Feather" came under scrutiny. I had to remove the word "escape." The play is about an inmate that may or may not have turned into a bird and flew away. And it's not just the inmates whose right to free expression is threatened. TDCJ has banned over 15,000 books and authors. That number is insane. As a caged writer, I don't have internet access. Fewer and fewer journals and magazines accept submissions by mail. The inclusivity that we hear so much about excludes the aged, the homeless, the infirm, the locked-up, the poor and anyone who wants to live screen-free. Let the gatekeeper be ability, not access."

— Matthew Mendoza, 1st Place Winner in poetry, 2nd Place Winner in Drama, 2018 PEN America Prison Writing Contest


attica uprising | history of the founding of pen america | still fighting for justice

"Founded on the heels of the Attica prison uprising in 1971, PEN America’s Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative and transformative possibilities of writing, and we support free expression, encouraging the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power. This mission hinges on the ability to amplify the writing that comes out of prison, past restrictive mail practices, and physical barriers, in an effort to reintegrate exiled voices into our community spaces."

Poetry Asylum has been invited to join PEN members across the country to stage community readings of this work during the week the Attica Uprising took place in 1971: September 9-13, 2018, honoring the struggle for free expression in prison, and underscoring the importance of writing as an act of creative resistance and triumph. We are working with several local organizations, including the Weisman Museum at the University of Minnesota to host a daylong event on Sunday, September 9, 2018.

Please stay tuned for more information on our ongoing collaboration.