Friday, September 30, 2022

Human rights advocate to lead conservation work for PEN authors

NEW YORK ( Associated Press) — Literary writer’s organization Pen America is expanding support to writers around the world for their work by hiring human rights advocate Lisel Gerntholtz to head the new Penn/Barbie Freedom to Write Center. facing imprisonment.

The new center will build on the work of Pen America, advocating for imprisoned writers such as Ukrainian freelance journalist Vladislav Yesipenko., who was first arrested in Crimea in 2021 and is still in prison. PEN America awarded him the PEN/Barbe Freedom to Right Award in 2022 to draw attention to his case, in the hope that he would be freed, like many former recipients of the award, the profile of the award and other major international Thanks for advocating the authors.

Yespenko’s wife will accept the award later this month at his location in New York and PEN America last year at a demonstration outside the Russian embassy and in February after his arrest and six-year prison sentence in his case via press release exposed.

Led by Gerntholtz, the new center will help Penn America monitor more cases of imprisoned writers in real time and attempt to help them leave their country or otherwise defend themselves. This work often goes out of the public eye due to the hostile environment of writers from countries such as Egypt, China and Myanmar.

Gerntholtz, who formerly headed the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, among other roles, said the center already has a database of about 700. “Writers, intellectuals, visual artists, journalists are in danger,” adding that list will be updated and expanded.

“Men are disproportionately represented in imprisoned writers, which means we are clearly missing out on ways to silence women,” said Gerntholtz, a South African native.

The Pen/Barbe Freedom to Right Center was created in October with a $10 million gift and represents the first donation in a fundraising campaign marking Penn America’s 100th year. It draws on the organization’s relationship with retired media executive Peter Barbe and his family, said Penn America CEO Suzanne Nossel.

“We’ve renewed our budget every year, and so it’s a big step for us to garner as much support as possible,” Nossel said. “PEN wasn’t built to last, but we’ve lived for 100 years nonetheless and we’re trying to keep that right and reduce the organization to the foundation it deserves.”

He called the gift a “catalytic” contribution because Penn America seeks to launch an endowment for greater financial stability, as well as support for its programming.

Since 2016, donations from the Edwin Barbe Charitable Trust have supported the PEN America Prize for Imprisoned Writers. Barbie, his wife, Pamela, and son, Matt, advise the fund, which is managed by the Arizona Community Foundation.

Barbie joined the board of PEN America in 2021, and as the organization plans for its second century, Nossel said she has reached out to Barbeys.

“I felt comfortable enough to pursue what I felt was a need to make a really transformative change in our work and I was very shaken, I think, when they said they wanted to participate at that level. When I would be ready to consider, I came to tears.” Nossel said.

Barbie gifts represent a substantial portion of the amount Penn America has raised annually through donations in recent years. In 2019, it reported $11.4 million in donations and $14.3 million in 2020, PEN America said.

Barbie served as president for several years at Reading Eagle Company, a media company in eastern Pennsylvania, that members of her family operated for generations until she sold it in 2019. He also bought New York Life, the weekly left-wing chronicle of the village. The Voice, in 2015, but could not save it. The paper closed in 2018 but has since resumed publication under new management.

“I think what’s unique about publishing is that you become an advocate of free expression by the nature of the business,” Barbe said, adding that she carried this forward in her philanthropy supporting Penn America and other journalism organizations. Is.

The charitable trust, a donor-advised fund, has also given $1 million to The Markup, a non-profit investigative digital news organization, Barbe said.

The fund was founded by Barbie’s father, Edwin Barbe, before he died in 2015.

The family’s wealth also comes from a textile business, now known as VF Corp., founded in Pennsylvania in 1899. The company, which is now publicly owned, has clothing brands such as Timberland, Vans, Gensport and Supreme.

In another measure of the state of free expression around the world, the Journalists’ Protection Committee documented the imprisonment of 293 journalists for the sixth year in a row, documenting more than 250 detained journalists. Within the US, the CPJ found that 59 journalists were arrested in 2021, usually while they were covering protests.

Barbe said he thinks Penn America’s advocacy for imprisoned writers “reaffirms for the American public and press that it is important.”

“Pen America represents our country, is truly a staunch activist defender of freedom of writing and freedom of speech,” he said.


Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported through Associated Press’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. Associated Press is solely responsible for this content. For all of Associated Press’s philanthropy coverage, visit,


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