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PEN Center USA will merge with New York chapter to become PEN America

PEN Center USA will merge with New York chapter to become PEN America
The leadership of the unified PEN, from left: Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America; Michelle Franke, executive director of PEN Center USA; and Suzanne Nossel, executive director, PEN America. (Aslan Habib Chalom)

PEN Center USA, the Los Angeles branch of the literary and human rights organization PEN International and a vital force in the city's literary community, will join forces with the New York PEN in 2018.

The new combined entity will be known as PEN America and will be overseen by Suzanne Nossel in New York.

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Michelle Franke, executive director of PEN Center USA, will continue her role in Los Angeles.

"PEN America reached out with a hope that we could unify the writers coast to coast and in doing so better serve the complimentary missions of both organizations," Franke told The Times.

The unification, she said, comes "at a moment of critical need for writers and readers in the country." For two branches that "typically competed for funders and competed for members, we will be able to create a unified community."

A statement released by Nossel echoed her sentiment: "The decision to join forces was born of a shared sense of urgency to fortify our collective efforts at a time of unprecedented challenges to free speech here at home."

Existing Los Angeles programs, including the Emerging Voices Fellowship, PEN in the Community and the annual fundraising gala and literary awards, will continue.

"As a member of the L.A. literary community, I feel really excited," said Franke. "I think it gives our members and PEN at large an opportunity to rise to the challenge of this moment." She added that the new structure will allow the Los Angeles PEN to expand its scope and "make contact and assess and deliver on regional needs for writers who are living in the western United States."

PEN Center USA professional members have been asked to vote in favor of unification, which, pending approval, will become official on March 1.

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