Everything that the "libertarian-egalitarian wing" of PEN American Center years ago once feared has come true many times over. PEN, beneath its progressive posturing, has turned into a plaything for rich people. This was shown most infamously with last year's drunken yacht party. (See www.nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2008/03/pen_american_center_world_voices_fest.html ).
This affair was part of PEN's hyper-expensive 2008 "World Voices" festival. We can legitimately ask how much of the half-million-dollar-plus budget for the festival was spent on this one event. HOW MUCH on the cases of champagne? HOW MUCH for amply stocked party trays? HOW MUCH to rent, of all things, the Queen Mary?
The participants included some of the wealthiest, most connected writers in America. Not quite socially-conscious behavior for what's supposed to be a "public charity."
It's one more example of how a clique of privileged writers have been scamming, through the manipulation of non-profit charities, this entire decade. I was one of a group of writers who began blowing the whistle on these prep-school deck-shoe criminals in 2000. For a few years we succeeded in throwing a spotlight on the hogs of the U.S. literary scene.
The result? The hogs were rewarded with ever more opportunity to pursue their gluttonous greed, while WE the whistleblowers were ostracized. Even PEN, supposed voice of literary conscience, has become an aristocratic toy: vehicle for blackballing of downtrodden writers who speak up; yacht parties for America's richest and greediest. PEN now embodies the worst of this country's inequities.
The question is whether the PEN staffers and members of conscience who remain will take back control of, and reform, the once-credible organization.