We’re so excited to announce the start of our spring series of virtual Literary Conversations!

Join us for our first event of the season – a discussion of intersectionality in literature featuring novelists Min Jin Lee, Tope Folarin, and Douglas Stuart, and moderated by Bethanne Patrick.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 at 7 pm ET

Get your ticket now!

Human society has a history of categorizing people based on identity markers such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, and many others. We as individuals, however, are so much more complex than our identity markers would suggest.

Intersections will feature authors who have engaged with intersectional identities in their work. All of these artists explore the changes that occur when authority is questioned and differences acknowledged. All of them also offer distinct views of these changes.

Join us for a complicated and challenging discussion of intersections, featuring novelists Tope Folarin (A Particular Kind of Black Man), Min Jin Lee (Pachinko), and Douglas Stuart (Shuggie Bain). The conversation will be moderated by writer and book critic Bethanne Patrick. Live captioning will be available for this event.

This Literary Conversation is held in partnership with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts. Their Women, Arts, and Social Change initiative highlights the power of women and the arts as catalysts for change.

You can find all our featured authors’ books at Politics & Prose, our exclusive bookseller for this event.

This year, PEN/Faulkner has decided to adopt a Pay-What-You-Will model for our Literary Conversations to ensure that they remain accessible to all audiences. If you’re able to, please consider making a donation when you claim your ticket so we can continue to provide high quality literary programs that matter to you.

Watch Literary Conversations: Escape

Interested in watching the rest of our Fall 2020 season? Catch Literature on Screen: You here, and Virus here.

Stay tuned for more information on our exciting Spring 2021 season!

With everything that was thrown at us in 2020, people are looking for ways to forget about the state of reality now more than ever. Literature provides the perfect opportunity to escape into new worlds in an attempt to cope with and understand all that happens in our own.

ESCAPE features authors who have built worlds and universes in their speculative fiction to explore the human condition and its impact on our reality.

On November 23, 2020 at 7 pm ET, we were joined by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), Rion Amilcar Scott (The World Doesn’t Require You), Nisi Shawl (Everfair), and moderator and author Morgan Jerkins.

The transcript for this event is available here.


“I tend to think that people, that humans, need stories, and we find them in everything. Algorithms are stories and should be seen as stories. The algorithm that says you will be reaching out for and anticipating trouble from people who are in a certain neighborhood, that is a story. And it is a story based on past experience, but whose past experience? Who was telling the story?” – Nisi Shawl

“If you’re picking out, demonizing, or mocking the humanities, then you’re going to have problems. And I think we’ve seen that. I think we see people who don’t really know or understand the implications of what they do. They have these theories and slogans, move fast and break everything, and we have to disrupt and disrupt, without thinking about the implications of what that disruption does and thinking about ways that you’re going to mitigate it. These things have been predicted. These things have been thought about… But if you take that out, if you ignore that, or if you cultivate people who don’t have any appreciation of that, then you’re going to have problems.” – Rion Amilcar Scott

“There’s a difference in the way [propaganda] is disseminated now, but the intention is the same. So, either to get people to believe in something that’s not true or to confuse them so much that they don’t know what to believe, and that was the stated aim of the Russian disinformation campaign in the 2016 election. A lot of people have just stepped back from the category called truth. But that’s not a good answer… So we need to get back to – who’s going to level with us? Who are the trusted sources? I tend to trust sources that have an address, because you can sue them.” – Margaret Atwood

You can purchase a copy of Margaret Atwood’s Dearly: New Poems, Rion Amilcar Scott’s The World Doesn’t Require You, Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, and Morgan Jerkins’ Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots from Politics & Prose.

This year, PEN/Faulkner has decided to adopt a Pay-What-You-Will model for our Literary Conversations to ensure that they remain accessible to all audiences. If you’re able to, please consider making a donation so we can continue to provide high quality literary programs that matter to you.

How Literary Characters Have Shaped My Life by Isabel Callahan

“I would say I most relate to Ross from Friends.” Laying on my mom’s studio carpet, phone pressed to my ear, I smiled in response to my friend’s observation. We were in the midst of a conversation about which TV show characters we relate to the most and, after comically considering Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants, my friend has settled on Ross.

Ross: kind, smart, loveable, goofy. The shoe seemed to fit. 

My friend spoke again, their sentiment something along the lines of: “I wonder how much we want to emulate parts of these characters, rather than innately be these characters.”

I paused, taken by this observation. While I often think about how I relate to characters, rarely do I consider the ways in which I am influenced by them. The more I thought about this, the more I saw how the person I am and the person I hope to be have been shaped by literary characters.

The first character I remember being influenced by was Margaret Simon of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The story follows Margaret, a nearly twelve-year-old girl who has just moved to a new town, as she navigates both puberty and her first explorations of religion. Growing up without a religious affiliation, she is curious about how other religions work. Though I might have related to her middle-schools fears, I most remember relating to Margaret’s religious and spiritual curiosity. I was inspired by something she had I felt I lacked: a relationship with God.

Growing up Unitarian Universalist, I had been encouraged to think about life’s “Big Questions” (Why are we here? How should we live? Where are we going?), but was never presented with a specific creed. Though this never bothered me, some of my friends seemed to have more of a sense of there being something or someone out there—a kind of faith I wanted too. In reading Blume’s book, I loved the conversations Margaret would have with God (or someone she called God), often beginning with, “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.” Inspired by Margaret, I began my first conversation with this something or someone. Looking up at the underside of my sister’s top bunk bed one night, I put out my probing question: “Are you there God? It’s me, Isabel.” 

I don’t remember how the conversation went. I can only imagine I spoke about my day, about my fears and joys and sorrows. And probably, much like Margaret, about that cute boy at school. Though this practice had no defined beginning or end, it strikes me now as the beginning of my relationship with something beyond myself.

The more I read, the more this mirroring continued, going beyond just the habits and quirks of characters. In high school, I read David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech This is Water, wherein he describes two fish who suddenly realize—upon the prompting of an older fish—that they are swimming in water. I wanted to develop the awareness of the older fish, the recognition that we are all swimming in a current of something (of thoughts, expectations, feelings). 

In college, I read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and found myself inspired by Lily Briscoe’s dedication to capturing through her art the essence of what she sees around her. A young woman attempting to paint a portrait of two other characters, Lily initially struggles. As a writer and twenty-year-old trying to uncover my own voice, I found comfort in both her struggle and eventual perseverance, encouraged to continue my own studies.

I remain influenced by the qualities, mindsets, and endeavors of characters I meet, continuing to assemble from them a vision of who I want to be. I can’t help but think others do the same, in their own way. If this is true, if the characters we read about and watch influence the people we hope to be, then the stories we read, write, and share are especially important. The people we hope to be more often than not become the people we are. That is not to say we cannot have complicated, imperfect characters; the complications are often what lead us to connect to the characters in the first place. Rather, it is to say that storytelling is a powerful avenue for manifesting the world we wish to see, and this world—much like our stories—deserves great consideration.

For more wonderful reflections by our fall Literary Outreach/Education Programs interns, read Isabel’s essay on Patrice Vecchione’s author visit here, Melissa Young’s essay on Mark Oshiro’s author visit here and her essay on the unexpected lessons she’s learned from reading novels here, as well as an essay on this fall’s Together We Read with Aida Salazar co-written by both Isabel and Melissa here.

4 Unexpected Lessons I Have Learned from Reading Novels by Melissa Young

I have been reading since I was two years old, and there are so many reasons that I fall in love with a book. Sometimes the way a sentence is written is so beautiful, I read it over and over to let it fill my soul with its magic. Sometimes the way a character is written is so life-like that I feel like I have made a new friend. Of course, there are also the life lessons and general knowledge woven into the story that make me a better, smarter human. Perhaps the things that stick with me the most, though, are the unexpected ways that books have changed my life—ways that most of the authors likely never intended. 

1. Teachers are people with jobs, and they are doing their best.

We had just finished reading The Giver by Lois Lowry in my eighth grade English class. I had finished reading it long before that day and had read the next book in Lowry’s then-unfinished Giver quartet, Gathering Blue. The day of our final class discussion, poor Mrs. Stark asked us to speculate the cliffhanger ending. “What do you think happened to Jonas and Gabriel?” To which I replied, “We don’t have to guess, there’s another book in the series.” Thus, my first argument with a teacher ensued. 

For those of you who have not read Gathering Blue, there is only a small section that hints at the fate of Jonas and Gabriel after The Giver. But I had read it, so I was angered by Mrs. Stark’s assertion that the sequel had nothing to do with what we were learning. Once I cooled my temper, I realized: my teachers are people. Mrs. Stark was a person with a life and a job, and her job was to make lessons about books for us to learn. Her job did not include researching an entire series to avoid sassy remarks from her students.

2. Letting a book make your choices for you is never the right choice, so pay attention.

The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer showed me that I was assigning far too many similarities between the people in my life and the characters in the books I read—even when the similarities did not exist. Make no mistake: connecting to a book by seeing part of ourselves and our lives is vital (this is why diverse books and #ownvoices are so important). However, we must each learn when to draw the line.

Clumsy and pale, I was stuck in my own love triangle in my own small town, and I was all too ready to assign the roles of Edward and Jacob to the people vying for my heart. Since I was Team Edward, the other person never had a chance. I had allowed this story to choose for me. I had also conveniently ignored all the bad character traits that made Edward real—many that my high school sweetheart shared and were not a good match for me.

3. Read the books you want and share them with the people you love.

I have much younger cousins with whom I might have nothing in common except for The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz. I have been reading across recommended age lines since I was 13; this not only means reading “up,” but also reading “down” whenever I want. When I heard there was a middle grade book about the children of Disney villains and heroes, there was no way I was missing that. My little cousins read it around the same time, and the story of these characters is something we still talk about together. 

In high school, my friends and I all read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire in preparation for seeing the musical. We talked about the book and sang the songs for weeks. This seemed like insignificant teenage silliness at the time, but it carries so much more weight now. Since one friend died six years ago, this book, the musical, and everything “Wicked” have become a source of remembrance and pain. More importantly, this story has become a thread, connecting us all in a bond stronger than friendship.

4. Books can surprise us if we let them.

I read Life of Pi by Yann Martel as part of my book club. Usually, I read the synopsis and reviews about book club books prior to delving into them. I had seen the movie trailer, so I decided to refrain from research this time. My expectations were for a book about a boy and a tiger in the ocean, a story of survival, and that I would cry a little. They did not include a soul-rocking theological journey. I have been on a similar journey for many years and never expected a fantasy adventure story to ring so true to my own life. Martel’s book may have been just as beautiful if I had known the content beforehand, but a surprise like that is something I hope everyone can experience once in their reading life.

For more wonderful reflections by our fall Literary Outreach/Education Programs interns, read Melissa’s essay on Mark Oshiro’s author visit here, Isabel Callahan’s essay on Patrice Vecchione’s author visit here, and an essay on this fall’s Together We Read with Aida Salazar co-written by both Melissa and Isabel here.

Voices from PEN/Faulkner Interns: Isabel Callahan

This fall, we were joined by wonderful interns who each wrote about an experience at an author visit that impacted them. We are delighted to present this essay by Isabel Callahan, one of our Literary Outreach/Education Programs interns. You can also read our other intern Melissa Young’s essay on Mark Oshiro’s visit here, and an essay on this fall’s Together We Read with Aida Salazar, co-written by both Isabel and Melissa, here.

Visit Story – Patrice Vecchione @ EL Haynes PCS Middle School, October 16, 2020

“Good morning everyone!” Despite the early hour, Patrice Vecchionecelebrated poet, nonfiction author, and teacherradiates warmth, a welcome reprieve from the cold rain falling outside. The students reply good morning in return, their morning grogginess wearing off as they smile and wipe the sleep from their eyes. As Patrice begins a short introduction of who she is and what she does, the class of twenty-five middle schoolers settle in, their quietness making space for story.

Patrice begins her presentation by discussing the political and personal motivations behind her latest book, Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience. A collection of poems, the work features the experiences and reflections of first- and second-generation young adult refugees and immigrants. Patrice shares: “When I saw how my fellow Americans were treating people who were not born here [in the United States]…I got angry.” She turned that anger into action, spotlighting the voices of refugees and immigrants through their own poetry. Students are moved by this opportunity to share one’s story, some even relating to the feelings expressed in the book. “Maybe you know the feeling of saying goodbye to people you love,” Patrice says. “Me,” replies a student in the chat. 

After sharing one of the book’s poems titled “Immigrant,” Patrice segues into a discussion of her own writing process: “I keep a journal and I write in it every day. It is the way I know myself and the world.” She speaks of the muse that inspires us and the poetic license we all have to create. She speaks of the inner critic and the angel that live inside us allthe former inviting us to doubt ourselves and our work, and the latter inviting us to see the beauty in what we create. 

Patrice then invites the students to write their own poems. “Have you ever left a place? What did it feel like to leave?” she asks. Patrice encourages the students to write what first comes to mind as they think about these questions, then gives the students time to write. Students grow silent, some thinking, some writing. 

After ten minutes, students are asked to share their favorite words from their poems. 

“Honduras,” says one student. “Blossom,” says another. 

Students are then invited to share their poems. However, as students read their poems out loud, the inner critic comes sneaking in. After sharing their poem, one student becomes particularly shy, writing a few “lol’s” in the chat. Patrice and Ms. Lattes, the educator, applaud the student though. Their poem is beautiful and heartfeltall of the poems areand I think back to the inner poet Patrice described as living within us all. How right she is.

As we near the end of the visit, students ask Patrice a few final questions, including more about the earlier poem. They ask what her life is like as an author. Patrice listens and responds with attentive energy, her tone growing reflective as one student asks: “What inspires you?” 

“My students inspire me,” she says. My own smile widens, along with the students.

There is time for one last question: “Can Ms. Patrice stay?”

Watch Literary Conversations: Virus

Looking for a recording of our Literature on Screen: You event? You can watch that here.

We are working on the recordings and transcripts for our Escape Literary Conversation and the virtual 2020 PEN/Malamud Award Ceremony. Please do stay tuned!

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way we live our lives. It has also shown us our weak points and failures as a society. VIRUS features authors who, in their work, have explored viruses and pandemics as well as the effects of those on human nature.

Literary powerhouses Stephen King (The Stand), Lauren Beukes (Afterland), and Emma Donoghue (The Pull of the Stars) were joined by moderator and author Daniel H. Pink on October 19, 2020 at 7 pm EDT.

The transcript for this event is available here.


“Another key thing to say about viruses is that even though we talk as if they’re going to affect any human being as much as any other, they don’t at all, and wealth is protective. So viruses are kind of an X-ray of social inequality… You know, a virus might at first seem equalizing, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.” – Emma Donoghue

“People need to remember that coronavirus is a virus. It doesn’t care about your political party and it doesn’t care what bumper sticker you have on your truck. It doesn’t care whether you think you’re a manly man or whether you need to go to your job. But there are things you can do – you can wear a mask, you can socially distance, you can take reasonable precautions. And if you do those things, the chances are very, very good that this will all be in the rearview mirror.” – Stephen King

“I know it’s boring and overused, but be kind to yourself. We’re living through a very traumatic and weird and lonely, existential, crazy time. So, you don’t have to pile everything on at once. Just be gentle.” – Lauren Beukes

You can purchase a copy of Stephen King’s The Stand, Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars, Lauren Beukes’ Afterland, and Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing from Politics & Prose.

This year, PEN/Faulkner has decided to adopt a Pay-What-You-Will model for our Literary Conversations to ensure that they remain accessible to all audiences. If you’re able to, please consider making a donation so we can continue to provide high quality literary programs that matter to you.

TWR with Aida Salazar: A Virtual Success

This fall, we were joined by wonderful interns who each wrote about an experience at an author visit that impacted them. We are thrilled to present this essay by Isabel Callahan and Melissa Young, our Literary Outreach/Education Programs interns. You can also read Melissa’s essay on Mark Oshiro’s visit here.

“So you basically like poetry because you can feel what it’s saying?” 

As the sixth grader spokeone of thirteen students in the classaward-winning children’s and young adult author Aida Salazar lit up. “Yes! Exactly!” she exclaimed. 

Aida was this fall’s featured author for Together We Read (TWR). A multi-school book club, TWR provides Washington, D.C. students with the opportunity to come together and celebrate their love of reading by engaging in writing activities and an author conversation. Though the program this fall was virtual, the concept was the same: invite students to read The Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar; ask them to participate in related writing workshops; and then engage them in intimate dialogue with Aida herself. 

A poignant novel-in-verse, The Land of the Cranes tells the story of Betita Quintero, a young Latina girl who is separated from her father and placed in an immigration detention center with her pregnant mother. While fictional in detail, the book is inspired by Aida’s own experiences as a young, undocumented immigrant, living in constant fear of la migra (immigration police). The book also pulls inspiration from current immigration injustices in the United States, with families being detained at the border and children being separated from their parents. The novel uses sensory language to convey the range of emotions Betita experiences while living in the detention center. 

Inspired by Aida’s use of sensory language, this year’s TWR writing workshops focused on the five senses. Students first immersed themselves in a specific memory. “What sounds do you hear? What do you smell?” Then, students wrote a poem based on the sensory details of the memory and hand-picked favorite lines from their poems to share with the class. 

“It tastes and smells like victory,” one student shared. “I hear the crunch of dried leaves,” said another. Each class worked together to create a class poem featuring their individually chosen line, which was later combined into a single, multi-school, collaborative poem, featured below. 

A few days later, the students gathered again virtually to meet Aida. She began each of the sessions by showing a book trailer for The Land of the Cranes, reinforcing the themes and characters of the novel. This also helped students understand some of the more difficult subjects covered in her book, such as families being separated from one another in the process of immigration. 

Aida then answered a variety of student questions. Students were curious about her life, asking if she was from Mexico and in which part of California she lives.  Others asked about the process of writing and publishing The Land of the Cranes: “Why did you write your book in English and Spanish?,” “Was Betita related to you in some kind of way?,” and “Did you draw [the front cover]?”  Students did not shy away from posing deeper questions as well, probing into whether she put any of herself in the book and how she felt while writing it. As the sessions went on, one thing became clear: the magic of poetry speaks to us all.

Listening to Aida speak about her life, the purposes writing serves are evident: Writing can help us work through our grief, as it did for Aida after her sister died. Writing can amplify the stories of those who might not feel seen in literature, as it did for Aida’s children. She began writing children’s books so that her children could “see themselves as the main characters.” Writing can also serve a broader purpose, bringing attention to issues that desperately need it. “Even though it’s hard, you have the power as a writer and a person in the world to write down how you feel,” Aida says. “Keep writing, because we need your stories.” 

Reading and writing are shared experiences because they are means of connecting people. While togetherness can be thought of as sharing in a physical space, it can also be thought of as joining together in any kind of spacein mutual interest and feeling. While this fall’s Together We Read might not have been in-person, its name still rings true: across bi-coastal time zones and geographic space, we were still together, a thread of words connecting us all.

The Seasons

A Collaborative Poem by Students from West Education Campus, CHEC/Lincoln Middle School, and Cardozo Education Campus 

It’s cold outside and I see people with coats and scarves.

I reach for the falling snowflakes. The snow feels light like a feather.

It tastes bland and watery. 

It tastes like winter.

I reach for my hot chocolate. It feels hot and warms my hands.

It tastes like winter, too.


Winter. I hear the snow dropping from the sky.

I see a white plate with three cookies and it reminds me of Christmas.

Quiet. I hear footsteps.

Quiet. I hear the kids laughing as they play in the snow.

It’s night. I can hear no noise. Everybody’s sleeping.


It’s quiet and I hear the wind breezing by.

I see a pink plate with pancakes and bacon, 

Watching as my plate breaks and my pancakes fly.

I eat a burnt piece of bacon.


Spring. It tastes and smells like victory.


I was wearing a summer dress and my party was in the yard.

I looked up and saw how beautiful all the stars were.


I hear laughter and smiling friends.

“Let’s go eat some caviar,” they say.

I reach for a piece of cake. It is fluffy and warm.


Summer. It smells like lavender,

Like books and a hint of lemon.

It tastes cold and refreshing.

I see shooting stars.


It’s two AM and I hear a noise.

Quiet. I hear my brother snoring.

“Let’s go break the law,” I think.


Fall. It’s rough and smooth at the same time.

I hear the crunch of dried leaves.

Dogs weeping.

I reach for

Voices from PEN/Faulkner Interns: Melissa Young

This fall, we were joined by wonderful interns who each wrote about an experience at an author visit that impacted them. We are delighted to present this essay by Melissa Young, one of our Literary Outreach/Education Programs interns.

DC International School’s Mary Thomas—librarian extraordinaire—lets everyone in on her plan: “When Mark gets here, I’m going to play the birthday song and we’re all going to dance in our [Zoom] squares.” We are going to make this birthday extra special for author Mark Oshiro. When Ms. Thomas sees that Mark is in the waiting room, she tells everyone to get their birthday wishes ready in the chat and start dancing. We all break out our best dance moves as Mark enters the meeting. I can’t help but laugh at this silly fun. Mark loves our celebration and gives us their thanks, commenting with amazement on the fact that one student’s screen is upside down.

With everyone feeling the love and excitement, Mark introduces themself as a queer, Latinx author. Their recent book, Each of Us a Desert, is a coming-of-age fantasy novel that follows Xochital on her danger-fraught journey across the desert in search of love and the woman she wants to be. Mark speaks about experiencing abuse, racism, and homophobia as a child. “What I needed most when I was sixteen was someone to tell me that what I was going through could be conquered,” they share. So, they began writing books that portray young people who must navigate prejudice, grief, and adolescence, just as Mark did. “I think of kids like me. I couldn’t close a book and not know about these things.”

All the while, the students’ attentions remain rapt on this author who speaks to them as equals. Each moment of the visit is conversational, like a group of friends getting together after so much time apart. When Mark says, “I didn’t finish college and I’m teaching at a university for a week. Maybe I’m not qualified to do this!”, a student jumps at the chance to offer them reassurance in the chat: “That’s imposter syndrome! Anyone would be lucky to be taught by you!”

After sharing their story and talking about their writing process with the students, the visit opens to Q&A. My heart warms when a student shares her joy at reading a book that portrays having gay parents as normal. Another student mentions how, in other books, Spanish words are often italicized, while in Mark’s book, they are integrated into the text. Curious, she asks why it was important to Mark to integrate the different languages and make the book more “Spanglishy.” Mark commends the students for noticing these details and laughs. They explain how they came up with the idea, “What if Spanish was a fantasy language like Elvish in Lord of the Rings?” They admit to those students who know Spanish, “I gendered things very strangely.” But that’s what’s so great about writing, they advise, because when you make your own world, you can make your own rules. 

Nobody is ready for this time together to end. Ms. Thomas and Mark are prolonging the visit by sharing photos of themselves as teenagers, much to the students’ amusement. It is a bittersweet goodbye, with Mark thanking each person and calling us by our names. One student begins to cry with joy upon hearing his name spoken by the author. As the visit ends, the chat is flooded with students saying things like, “I love you and your books—they’re all so beautiful” and “My sister is sleeping, but pretend I’m screaming in gratitude.” 

Mark makes a promise to the students: As soon as it becomes safe, “I am coming to visit you.”

Learn More About PEN/Faulkner

Who is PEN/Faulkner?

We are a nonprofit organization based in DC that has been in operation for 41 years. We were founded by National Book Award-winner Mary Lee Settle, who established the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, now the largest annual peer-juried literary prize in America.

Some of our recent winners include Chloe Aridjis (Sea Monsters), Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Call Me Zebra), and Imbolo Mbue (Behold the Dreamers).

What is PEN/Faulkner’s vision?

Imagine a world in which people with a diverse array of perspectives are engaged in meaningful conversations with literary figures, societal leaders, and (most importantly) each other. A world in which every child, no matter their background or circumstances, has access to robust literary educational opportunities.

That is our vision, which we have worked for more than 40 years to bring to life.

How does PEN/Faulkner achieve this vision?

On top of administering the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, our public literary programs bring contemporary authors together in conversation about urgent societal issues.

In our virtual fall 2020 season, our three events explored:

  • The modernization of stalking in the digital age in Literature on Screen: You with author Caroline Kepnes (YouHidden Bodies), actor Penn Badgley, and moderator Chris Klimek;
  • The effects of pandemics on human nature in Virus with authors Stephen King (The Stand), Lauren Beukes (Afterland), and Emma Donoghue (The Pull of the Stars), moderated by Daniel H. Pink (Drive); and
  • The use of speculative fiction to better understand our reality in Escape with authors Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), Rion Amilcar Scott (The World Doesn’t Require You), and Nisi Shawl (Everfair), moderated by Morgan Jerkins (Wandering in Strange Lands).

Meanwhile, our education programs provide students across DC with free books, author visits, and writing instruction. We believe that strong literacy skills are not only necessary for academic and career success, but are also essential for young people to participate constructively in a democracy, especially one that faces increasingly complex and global challenges.

Beyond strengthening students’ literacy skills and nurturing their belief in themselves, our programs aim to use literature to foster empathy and inspire students to own their stories.

  • Writers in Schools: Free books and author visits for Title I public and charter schools across DC.
  • Writing Workshops: Hands-on writing workshops led by trained, professional writers.
  • Writers in Residence: Long-term residencies with experienced writers, developed in partnership with educators.
  • Together We Read: A multi-school book club with author visits for students across DC.
  • Summer Writing Programs: Writing instruction, book discussions, workshops with guest authors, and more.
  • Nuestras Voces: An initiative that focuses on amplifying Latinx/Hispanic voices through bilingual programming and featuring Latinx storytellers and stories.

Why Your Support Matters

In the last five years, we’ve donated more than 20,000 books to young people across DC. Many of the students we serve start building their own libraries with the books we give them. Many more are inspired by the authors we connect them with – not just as readers, but as writers in their own right, too.

With your support, we can get more than 3,000 culturally relevant books directly into the hands of students over the next year. COVID-19 has severely impacted student learning, with inequitable access to virtual technologies and literacy opportunities disproportionately affecting lower-income students and creating greater challenges for educators.

Through our education programs, PEN/Faulkner is:

  • Listening and responding to our community’s real-time needs;
  • Reaching remote and isolated students through online sessions; and
  • Donating books to students who cannot participate virtually.

Every dollar and every share matters. You can make a general donation to support our organization’s efforts here, or share this page with your community. We deeply appreciate your support in whatever way you can give at this time.

#MyOneBook Compilation

We have loved hearing about all the books that changed your lives! Thank you for sharing your stories with us. They have been a timely reminder of how books can empower us and bring us closer together. Below, we’ve compiled all the books that have made a collective impact on the PEN/Faulkner community. We hope this list sparks some joy for you, like it did for us when we celebrated each book.

Interested in supporting our mission of inspiring the next generation of readers and writers? Donate now to our #GivingTuesday campaign, or make a general donation to support our organization’s efforts here.

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

“Reading this book always evokes a deep sense of longing for me to better understand where I come from and has actually inspired me to interview my own family members over the last few years about who they are.”

In the late 1970s Ondaatje returned to his native island of Sri Lanka. As he records his journey through the drug-like heat and intoxicating fragrances of that “pendant off the ear of India,” Ondaatje simultaneously retraces the baroque mythology of his Dutch-Ceylonese family. An inspired travel narrative and family memoir by an exceptional writer.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

“A gift from my great grandmother, the book’s poetic and spiritual notes on life helped guide my grandmother through the joys and sorrows of living, a gift she wanted to pass down to me.”

The Prophet is a collection of poetic essays that are philosophical, spiritual, and, above all, inspirational. Gibran’s musings are divided into twenty-eight chapters covering such sprawling topics as love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, housing, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

“This book is a shared favorite of mine and my mother’s and it’ll always be special to me as it’s something we can both love, together.”

Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Elena Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its main characters, the fiery and unforgettable Lila and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflicted friendship. This first novel in the series follows Lila and Elena from their fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

The Monster’s Ring by Bruce Coville

“At 11 years old, the idea that a building filled with magical items would appear if I could only get lost excited me. I tried very hard for months to get lost, but was cursed with an excellent memory of the roads in my town.”

Russell is sure that the ring he gets at Mr. Elives’ shop is just a silly magic trick, but he follows the instructions and twists the ring twice anyway–and becomes a monster!


Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

“After we read the book, my pre-k students demanded the end of naptime and mounted a strike of their own… My students are in high school and college now. I hope they remember Farmer Brown’s cows and their own classroom demands for change, and that they’re out in the world making good trouble.”

It was the typewriter heard ’round the world. When Farmer Brown’s cows began leaving him notes, that’s when his troubles started–and the animals’ fun commenced!

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

“It took me a year, off and on, to read the whole book. I can’t wait to retire so I can do it all over again.”

Swann’s Way is one of the preeminent novels of childhood: a sensitive boy’s impressions of his family and neighbors, all brought dazzlingly back to life years later by the taste of a madeleine. It also enfolds the short novel Swann in Love, an incomparable study of sexual jealousy that becomes a crucial part of the vast, unfolding structure of In Search of Lost Time. The first volume of the work that established Proust as one of the finest voices of the modern age–satirical, skeptical, confiding, and endlessly varied in his response to the human condition–Swann’s Way also stands on its own as a perfect rendering of a life in art, of the past recreated through memory.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“I first read [this] when I was an angst-ridden teenager feeling like nothing in the world made any sense. Vonnegut gave voice to my anxieties and broadened my understanding of how to be a human in the 20th century.”

Billy Pilgrim is the son of an American barber. He serves as a chaplain’s assistant in World War II, is captured by the Germans, and he survives the largest massacre in European history the fire bombing of Dresden. After the war Billy makes a great deal of money as an optometrist, and on his wedding night he is kidnapped by a flying saucer from the planet Tralfamadore. So begins a modern classic by a master storyteller.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“This is the first book that I read that elicited such intense emotions that I couldn’t bear to end the book. The story of love and loss, coupled with the underlying message of environmental stewardship, made me fall in love with this book.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, a luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern black woman in the 1930s whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance, continues to inspire the next generation of students.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

“Every time I come back to it, I discover new things about the story, its characters, and its social commentaries. I could spend hours talking about the book’s narrative style, the themes of class and race, or the constructions of femininity and womanhood that Brontë explores – but her greatest triumph is writing this masterpiece with such immense passion and emotion that the reader can’t help but feel immersed in every single page.”

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before. What unfolds is the tale of the intense love between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

“One deeply sentimental essay, On Going Home, still makes me cry each time I read it; it speaks to me as a nomad, as someone who until recently had no permanent sense of home.”

The first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem remains, decades after its first publication, the essential portrait of America–particularly California–in the sixties. It focuses on such subjects as John Wayne and Howard Hughes, growing up a girl in California, ruminating on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room, and, especially, the essence of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counterculture.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

“In addition to being the most metal-ass shit ever, it has expanded my understanding of the possibilities of the language.”

In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, becoming James I of England. London was alive with an interest in all things Scottish, and Shakespeare turned to Scottish history for material. He found a spectacle of violence and stories of traitors advised by witches and wizards, echoing James’s belief in a connection between treason and witchcraft.

In depicting a man who murders to become king, Macbeth teases us with huge questions. Is Macbeth tempted by fate, or by his or his wife’s ambition? Why does their success turn to ashes?

Like other plays, Macbeth speaks to each generation. Its story was once seen as that of a hero who commits an evil act and pays an enormous price. Recently, it has been applied to nations that overreach themselves and to modern alienation. The line is blurred between Macbeth’s evil and his opponents’ good, and there are new attitudes toward both witchcraft and gender.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

“It inspired me to study French, become fluent, live abroad, and meet extraordinary and culturally diverse people.”

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean–the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread–Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope–an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

“Because, well, magic.” (Note: if you’d prefer to refrain from supporting J.K. Rowling, please buy used books!)

Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley — a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry — and anyone who reads about him — will find unforgettable.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

“My love for literature and writing began with this book in high school.”

Mrs Dalloway describes a day in 1923 in the life of an upper-class Londoner, Clarissa Dalloway, as she prepares for a party she is hosting. In lyrical language, Virginia Woolf describes Clarissa, her memories, day-dreams, regrets and fears, to masterfully entwine the past, present and future in what is regarded as one of the great novels of the twentieth century. “The novel’s opening pages are probably the most ecstatic representation of running errands in the Western canon.” (Evan Kindley). The novel is essentially plotless; using the springboard of the mundane preparations for a society party, it travels backwards and forwards through time, drawing the reader into the consciousness of the characters.

Mrs. Dalloway, perhaps Virginia Woolf’s most popular work, and perhaps semiautobiographical, is a book worth reading and rereading.

Open City by Teju Cole

A haunting novel about identity, dislocation, and history, Teju Cole’s Open City is a profound work by an important new author who has much to say about our country and our world.

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor named Julius wanders, reflecting on his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. He encounters people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey–which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Published in 1864, Notes from Underground is considered the author’s first masterpiece – the book in which he “became” Dostoevsky – and is seen as the source of all his later works. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose acclaimed translations of The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment have become the standard versions in English, now give us a superb new rendering of this early classic. Presented as the fictional apology and confession of the underground man – formerly a minor official of mid-nineteenth-century Russia, whom Dostoevsky leaves nameless, as one critic wrote, “because ‘I’ is all of us” – the novel is divided into two parts: the first, a half-desperate, half-mocking political critique; the second, a powerful, at times absurdly comical account of the man’s breakaway from society and descent “underground.” The book’s extraordinary style – brilliantly violating literary conventions in ways never before attempted – shocked its first readers and still shocks many Russians today.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food–and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

A years-long #1 New York Times bestseller, an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and Best Book for Reluctant Readers, and with millions of copies in print, this novel for teen readers (or “wallflowers” of more-advanced age) will make you laugh, cry, and perhaps feel nostalgic for those moments when you, too, tiptoed onto the dance floor of life.

Sphere by Michael Crichton

A classic thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Crichton, Sphere is a bravura demonstration of what he does better than anyone: riveting storytelling that combines frighteningly plausible, cutting edge science and technology with pulse-pounding action and serious chills. The gripping story of a group of American scientists sent to the ocean floor to investigate an alien ship, only to confront a terrifying discovery that defies imagination, Sphere is Crichton prime–truly masterful fiction from the ingenious mind that brought us Prey, State of Fear, and Jurassic Park.

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams and Reaching Your Destiny by motivational speaker and author Robin Sharma is an inspiring tale that provides a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance and joy. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari tells the extraordinary story of Julian Mantle, a lawyer forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out-of-balance life, and the subsequent wisdom that he gains on a life-changing odyssey that enables him to create a life of passion, purpose and peace.

Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñonez

In a stunning narrative combining the gritty rhythms of Junot Diaz with the noir genius of Walter Mosley, Bodega Dreams pulls us into Spanish Harlem, where the word is out: Willie Bodega is king. Need college tuition for your daughter? Start-up funds for your fruit stand? Bodega can help. He gives everyone a leg up, in exchange only for loyalty–and a steady income from the drugs he pushes.

Lyrical, inspired, and darkly funny, this powerful debut novel brilliantly evokes the trial of Chino, a smart, promising young man to whom Bodega turns for a favor. Chino is drawn to Bodega’s street-smart idealism, but soon finds himself over his head, navigating an underworld of switchblade tempers, turncoat morality, and murder.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

“Moby-Dick was the first novel I felt rather than just read… There are stunning chapters – about whales and whale blubber, about details of sailing and masts – where Melville is writing for the pure joy of what he knows and loves and the joy of the act of writing – commercialism and publishability be damned. This was a beacon to me. Giving permission to read, enjoy, learn, marvel or be bored and skip ahead.”

‘Command the murderous chalices!…Drink ye harpooners! drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow – Death to Moby Dick!’. So Captain Ahab binds his crew to fulfil his obsession – the destruction of the great white whale. Under his lordly but maniacal command the Pequod’s commercial mission is perverted to one of vengeance. To Ahab, the monster that destroyed his body is not a creature, but the symbol of ‘some unknown but still reasoning thing’. Uncowed by natural disasters, ill omens, even death, Ahab urges his ship towards ‘the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale’.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

“It felt like Roxane was speaking directly to me when she wrote: “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself…””

A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.