Thursday, April 30, 2009

PEN Background

Check out this link to a 3/12/97 article by Ralph Blumenthal in the New York Times, "Stung by Dissident, a Divided PEN Ponders Its Role."

Note the way the person who spoke up about the changes was isolated and marginalized, Portrayed as a nut-- a standard status quo tactic when dealing with whistleblowers. The truth was much different. This dispute was the culmination of a twelve-year process of tieing PEN American Center to big-money interests, so that by the time someone spoke out, the takeover had gone too far. It's time to reverse the takeover and return democracy to the literary world.

More to follow.

If There Are No Photos


So far I haven't found photos on-line about Tuesday's swanky PEN Gala, except for one on the New York Observer site of Edmund White looking like an enormous whale ( -). THERE's a writer who hasn't missed any meals of late! Some writers scramble for survival like Francois Villon, while others apparently exist in an endless cycle of banquets like the PEN one.

Before this year's PEN Gala I mailed out a few dozen copies of a pamphlet I put together gently mocking the event, with a couple pictures of rich people in top hats. I was trying to embarrass the literary aristocrats. They prove to be beyond embarrassment-- or at least hold the philosophy that if they ignore corruption it doesn't exist. If they close their eyes and ears they're not forced to acknowledge it.

With that spirit they didn't cancel their party (despite the hard times), the reason-for-being for the PEN edifice, but so far have stopped public photos of it. Wouldn't look right, you know. Appearance is important.

If anyone finds some good photographs of the lit-world's piggy plutocrats celebrating themselves, please let me know! (I should've crashed the event, or gotten someone inside as a waiter or such.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Does PEN Support Needy Writers?

We've seen how, of PEN American Center's grants to individual writers in a recent year, more than a third of the money went to hyper-successful novelist Philip Roth. To what extent was this balanced by awards to needier writers?

In the year examined, 2007, the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship of $5,000 went to Diane LesBecquets.

A PEN Statement reads: "The fellowship provides a writer with a measure of financial sustenance in order to make possible an extended period of time to complete a book-length work-in-progress, and to assist a writer at a crucial moment in his or her career when monetary support is particularly needed."

To what extent did Diane LesBecquets meet the criteria? Was the monetary support "particularly needed"?

A first clue is provided by the award's press release, that it's for the "forthcoming novel Genesis, to be published by Bloomsbury."

Diane LesBecquets in fact has had two novels recently published by Bloomsbury USA. Did she not receive advances; payments? Once again, what business does PEN have subsidizing a multi-national corporation? Was the extra five grand THAT "particularly needed"?

Not when you consider that LesBecquets teaches at Southern New Hampshire University and in May of '07 was named Chair of the university's undergraduate Creative Writing Program; a position presumably with tenure and a substantial salary.

Particular need? Oh, I know a few writers with particular need! They don't have tenured, high-paying jobs like Diane Lesbecquets. They're not published by international conglomerates. For them, continuing as writers in these hard economic times is a trifle more difficult.
SOMEWHERE in PEN American Center's 2007 list of literary awards must be some to needy, even outcast writers.

Aha! There it is. The "PEN/Beyond Margins Awards." Beyond margins! Five of them. These must be the literary outsiders! A mere $1,000 each; not a lot, but: something.


Stay tuned.

Re Blackolive

If anyone is serious about nominating novelist Bill Blackolive for PEN membership, as I've suggested, they can email me at this blog's email address for contact info; OR, can contact Bill through his publisher, Jeff Potter, of ULA Press/OYB Books, using links on the left to either ULA or ULA Press. This shouldn't be difficult.

I'm leery of giving Bill's contact info here openly, if it will cause him to be a target from the same characters who regularly have gone after me in various ways: "The Daniel Handler Gang" you could call them, including not simply Mr. Handler, but a collection of bozos including "Harland," "Roody McDoody," "Toast," Terri Wilson of Cincinnati, and likely a few others.

Getting Bill PEN membership would be nice (though C.S. has assured us he would NOT get it), but would leave things as is. The idea is to change PEN from top to bottom to make it responsive to writers-- all writers in this nation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

$$ "A Song to Wealth" $$

(Rumored to be performed at the upcoming April 28, 2009 PEN Gala.)

(The prize winner steps to the dais.)

We writers,
We Best writers,
Credentialed writers,
Hyped and nurtured and financially
Backed writers;
Awarded writers;
Obscure writers
all the same,
as literature is Obscure,
because we made it Obscure:
for us.
A tree, somewhere--
a tree of money;
money tree;
Money tree!

(Sustained applause as the writer says, "Thank you.")

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another Question

Does PEN American Center speak truth to power?

In fact it's Power's mistress. It's right in bed with it.

Democracy or Privilege?

This is the question the Petition to PEN was constructed to address. It's the crux of the matter; the basis upon which you should decide whether or not to sign. The rest are details which can be haggled over after the point has been made, the force of the petition complete.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Plutocrats at Play

See for photos of last year's big PEN soiree.

The person I don't get is Francine Prose, who's the house ideologue for the current literary regime; a Suslov character, with about as much commitment as Suslov to open debate.

You'd think that the establishment's "best and brightest" would be willing to prove their cred; to demonstrate against actual competition the strength of their ideas-- whenever challenged they can only hide. A handful of bought-and-paid-for bootlickers come onto my blogs under phony names, but nobody will openly challenge my facts, my arguments, and my ideas. Why is that, do you think?



Would it be directed by the nation's elite?

Would it be staffed by those who carry the most approved, conformist credentials available?

Would it assiduously associate itself with the nation's financial and social elite, and tie itself to gigantic conglomerates whose sole reason-for-being is not art, but money?

Would it distribute its largesse to the most NON-dissenting, NON-threatening writers it can find?

PEN American Center doesn't answer these questions because it CAN'T answer these questions.

Monday, April 20, 2009



This is it! Possibly the last chance for rich people to celebrate wealth as the civilization collapses on all sides from their greed.

WHEN: April 28.
WHERE: Museum of Natural History, New York City.

Not to be missed!
SEE "famous" writers on display!
SEE Tina Brown and other celebrity face lifts!

Jewels! Gowns! Black ties! Top hats!
Lavish food and drink!
Fur coats! (If there are no PETA people in sight!)

Tight Security Guaranteed!
Last Blow-out of the Literary Aristocracy!
YOU can stuff your face and rub shoulders with rich people-- as long as you can pay the hyper-expensive ticket price!

Be there or be poor.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Does It Say?

What does it say about PEN American Center as currently constituted that Michael Roberts, Lawrence Siems and Company refuse to answer questions about their public organization?


The irony is that PEN, which should be looking out for outspoken or marginalized writers, can dismiss what I say due to my marginality.

The arrogance of privilege; the insularity of power.

(Do you have tickets yet for PEN's April 28 "Ode to Riches" party?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Immediate Petition Objectives

1.) To test if there's life in the literary underground.
2.) To remind people underground writers exist.
3.) To highlight corruption and stagnation in the halls of established literature.
4.) To see if there are any small-d democrats in the mainstream literary world.
5.) To lay a foundation for a Second Wave of literary rebellion.
6.) To have fun in so doing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The New York Problem

YES, I've heard the working class anthem "Shutting Detroit Down," by John Rich. (One of my sisters caught it last night.) Here's a line from it:

"While they're living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town, here in the real world they're shutting Detroit down."

As commentators have noted, the song appears to come from both the Right AND the Left. Anyway, the lyrics have strong resonance for me. (I recently moved back to Philly FROM Detroit.) As in the song, I watched my old man work himself into a grave in an auto plant, and I worked in one of those monsters myself. Detroit was once the fourth largest city in the U.S. I can't describe what it's like to see the world you grew up in collapse around you. For much of working class America, the collapse of Detroit came in tandem with the destruction of the American dream.

Anyone who wants to know what I'm about can start with the John Rich song.
The song brings up the problem of New York. The literary problem with New York City is the centralization of so many literary institutions and businesses in one spot. (This explains the tight relationship between PEN and the book conglomerates.)

When I've brought this matter up before, troll demi-puppets have pointed out the centralization of the auto industry in Detroit. But how did that work out? It produced insularity; bureaucratic stagnation; slowness in picking up new ideas-- exactly what the literary machine suffers from now.

Opening up PEN American center is akin to opening up North Korea-- a difficult task. However, if we could get a few undergrounders onto PEN's board, one of the first things to lobby for would be to move PEN out of New York. I'd suggest it move to Detroit. There's a lot of empty office space in Detroit right now (half of downtown!) which could be had cheap-- with resulting savings in expenses for PEN.

Think of it: PEN located in the city of hardship, center of economic depression. What could be more in keeping with the spirit of the PEN organization?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where Are They?

PEN American Center, supposed charity, hands tax-sheltered financial grants to successful authors like Philip Roth, and blows millions on swanky readings and galas, partying like there's no tomorrow.

Meanwhile writers, supposed societal watchdogs, have nothing to say. Newspapers, magazines, and reporters devoted to the literary art have conducted no investigations. On the watchdog front, all is silent. Are they complicit in the do-nothing, see-no-evil conspiracy?

In New York City, capital of literary corruption, are rumored to be several million "progressives," yet this blog scans the scene and can find nobody. The streets of Manhattan and trendy parts of Brooklyn are empty.

A visit to the local bistro. Laptops vanish as we step inside. "Writers? Progressives?" the proprietor answers with some hesitation. "I haven't seen any!" (Yuppies in berets scatter out a back door.) Even the many Starbucks, one on every corner, are empty. A barista: "I've seen nothing. Nothing!"

Millions of progressives, many of them writers, yet not a one in sight. As we conclude this report we can only ask,

"Where are the progressives?"
"Where are the writers?"

This SPECIAL REPORT has been provided as a public service by the Petition to PEN people, an attempt to expose corruption in the established literary scene. You can join at:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Who Should Sign Part II

I am making, and will continue to make, an irrefutable case for changes to PEN American Center's board of trustees.

The question is whether establishment writers will join the list of petitioners at

In the spirit of the Charles Kane character in "Citizen Kane" finishing a review denouncing himself, they should join the Protest. (Are they waiting for a Dave Eggers to trump them in boldness?) The Petition argument is one they can't help but-- as good liberals-- agree with. PEN officers and board members should sign the Petition, depriving it of force-- if they're true to PEN itself.

(See a related post-- "For Writers"-- at )

Friday, April 10, 2009

More PEN Facts

The centerpiece of the PEN American Center organization is its Gala, which occurs every year in late April. The funds raised by wealthy attendees-- $766,625 grosa receipts in 2007-- is a major engine keeping the PEN apparatus going. (Tickets are usually in the neighborhood of $1,000 a head.)

The expense to hold the swanky aristocratic affair-- $247,773 in 2007-- is not far off PEN's total giving ($285,150 in '07) and indicates the event's importance.

PEN holds other literary affairs every year-- such as the International Writers Festival, staged at a mind-boggling expense of $536,005. (I've staged literary events for less than $100, promotion included.) PEN promotes its Festival as an "answer to American cultural insularity."

What we really need is an answer to NEW YORK cultural insularity as exemplified by PEN.
What of PEN's giving?
$111,000 of it consisted of monetary awards to individual writers.
The top three in 2007:
$40,000 to Philip Roth, who's published by both Houghton-Mifflin and Randon House.
$35,000 to Columbia prof Janna Levin, published by Alfred Knopf.
$10,000 to James Carroll, published by Houghton-Mifflin.

By giving grants to authors who should be fully paid by their giant publishers, PEN American Center is in effect subsidizing billion-dollar book conglomerates.

But surely, PEN American Center, which was created to be an activist organization, must fund needy or dissenting American writers also. DO THEY? A quick perusal of the 2007 list indicates the answer might be yes.

The question will be more closely examined in another post. (The best is yet to come.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Facts About PEN

A few facts about PEN American Center from their 2007 form 990. (PEN is listed as a public charity.)

This charity's total giving amounted to
$285,150. (Much of it to successful authors.)
This figure is dwarfed by PEN's total compensation for officers and staff of
This includes for Michael Roberts, compensation of:
Michael Welch:
Linda Morgan:
Lawrence Siems:
It turns out the bulk of the "public charity" PEN doles out goes to itself!

NOTE: Michael Welch is listed as Finance Director. His role presumably is to give valuable financial advice. One thinks he could advise PEN to eliminate his position, which alone would save a substantial financial amount.

Are you ready yet to join the petitioners at ?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What Does PEN Stand For?

The word "PEN" in the title "PEN American Center" stands for
"Poets, Essayists, and Novelists."

That's it. There's no "S" at the beginning for "Some Poets, Essayists, and Novelists."

I guess, per Orwell's "Animal Farm," all writers are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Who Should Sign

Who should sign the Petition to PEN?
-Print-On-Demand authors.
-Editors of small lit-mags.
-Writing students.
-Those who proclaim their interest in downtrodden writers.
-Members of organizations which represent downtrodden writers.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Another Author

Was the gift to Philip Roth by PEN American center an isolated incident?

Also in 2007 PEN gave the $35,000 Bingham award to Janna Levin, graduate of MIT, who's published by major house Knopf, and is a professor at Columbia University. Hardly an outsider!
I have yet to hear one coherent reason for NOT signing the petition to PEN at
Since the petition is designed to open up the closed shop of the literary scene-- for funding and reviews both-- or at least call attention to the Insider way things are run, every underground writer should be joining the protest. Every writer period who believes in democracy should be on the list. "We are the change we've asked for."