Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

PEN America
P.E.N. American Center Records
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1922-2008 (mostly 1930-1989)
294 boxes and 130 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpxm): Boxes 1-125; 127-295


Consists of files created by P.E.N. American Center as part of its regular business operations since its founding in 1922. Includes material on governance and policies, programs, awards, and financial aid granted to authors, and the center's involvement with International P.E.N. and other P.E.N. organizations worldwide. The collection is especially notable for its extensive author correspondence and occasional original manuscripts, as well as audio and video recordings of P.E.N. programs and events.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The P.E.N. American Center Records consist of files created by P.E.N. American Center (PEN America) as part of its regular business operations. They document the history and activities of the center since its foundation in 1922.

The collection contains files documenting the center's literary awards, grants, and financial aid given by the center, program files, and files pertaining to the center's advocacy for freedom of expression. Further included are files that document the center's decision-making processes and policies, including executive and committee files, fundraising files, and membership files. The conference files and files on other branches and centers document P.E.N. American Center's role in International P.E.N. and its interactions with organizations of P.E.N. worldwide. In addition, the collection contains audiovisual material documenting P.E.N. events and publications created by or under the auspices of P.E.N. American Center.

The collection is especially notable for its documentation of authors' and editors' creative processes and intellectual leanings, manifest in the executive correspondence files and the manuscripts and committee files that pertain to the center's literary awards. More than 1500 hours of audio and video recordings of P.E.N. programs and events, dating back to 1966, also document lively conversations between writers and artists, Nobel Prize winners in literature, economics, science, and peace, social reformers and activists, and philosophers, including Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, Pablo Neruda, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Allen Ginsberg to name only a few.


The P.E.N. American Center Records are arranged into twelve series. Material transferred from P.E.N. subsequent to the original 1994 transfer is represented in this finding aid with the appropriate series but may be shelved physically apart.

Collection Creator Biography:

PEN America

P.E.N. American Center (PEN America) is the United States branch of International P.E.N., a worldwide non-profit organization of writers, editors, and translators that advocates for freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and "the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world" (P.E.N. charter). Founded one year after International P.E.N. in 1922, P.E.N. American Center is one of two P.E.N. centers currently located in the U.S. (the other is in Los Angeles) and one of more than 100 centers of P.E.N. International worldwide.

P.E.N. American Center sponsors a variety of literary, literacy, and advocacy programs. Among the center's prominent activities are the advocacy program Freedom to Write, which defends censored or persecuted authors; the financial aid program Writers' Emergency Fund, which gives small emergency grants to authors who face acute financial difficulties; the Prison Writing Program, which promotes writing among prison inmates; and World in Translation, which recognizes American translators. The center also awards a number of literary prizes in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry, biography, children's/young adults' fiction, and translation.

P.E.N. American Center currently has a membership of over 7,000. The center counts Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie, and Princeton professors Edmund Keeley and Kwame Anthoy Appiah among its past presidents. Its current president is Jennifer Egan. In addition, past members include James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Marianne Moore, Paul Auster, and John Steinbeck, among others.

Collection History


Purchased from P.E.N. American Center in 1994 . Additional material was transferred in 1997 , 1998 , 1999 , 2001 , and 2009 .


Approximately 100 linear feet of material was separated in 2010, including duplicate material, clippings, general administrative and logistical files, general membership files, general reference files, publications (transferred to Firestone Library general collections) and extraneous material.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Jennifer Bowden with the assistance of Jennifer Watkins in 1994. Finding aid written by Jennifer Bowden with the assistance of Jennifer Watkins in 1994.

Reprocessed by Regine Heberlein in 2010.

Original audiovisual media were digitized in 2015-2017 as part of a grant-funded digitization project in collaboration with PEN America. Description of audiovisual materials was enhanced by Kelly Bolding in 2018, using description provided by PEN America.

In 2022, restrictions on the P.E.N. Writers' Fund files were lifted as part of a restrictions review project.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Online access to most digitized audiovisual media in the collection is available through the PEN America Digital Archive site.

Credit this material:

P.E.N. American Center Records; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpxm): Boxes 1-125; 127-295