Perhaps you have heard of the writers organization called PEN. See the PEN website at http://www.pen.org/ They write:
"PEN’s programs reach out to the world and into diverse communities within this country. They promote writing and literature at every level and are founded on the belief that free expression is an essential component of every healthy society."
But an investigation by King Wenclas, one of the founders of ULA, Underground Literary Alliance, finds a different PEN - one that passes prize money to a clique of New York City writers that really don't seem to need it.
King writers on his blog http://kingwenclas.blogspot.com/
A quick look at some of PEN American Center's 2009 payouts:
1.) $25,000 to Cormac McCarthy. Amazing. PEN is a public charity. Cormac McCarthy is one of the most successful authors in America.
2.) $35,000 to Donald Ray Pollock. Pollock's a working class guy who obtained a MFA in middle-age. (Why he believed this necessary, and whether this affected his art, is another story.)
The key point is that Pollock is published by Random House, and is currently receiving a p.r. push by the giant book company. PEN has made itself an extension of a Random House (really, Bertlesmann) publicity campaign.
3.) $10,000 each to Steve Coll and Richard Brody. Both work for the New Yorker mag, which is the center of the literary establishment: Brody as an editor; Coll writing a blog for them. Steve Coll is President and CEO of New America Foundation, and former Managing Editor of the Washington Post. PEN continues rewarding the establishment, maybe because it now IS the establishment.
4.) The "Beyond Margins" recipients will be announced at the awards ceremony today. They're treated as an afterthought. Do we dare ask what makes them "Beyond Margins" in PEN's eyes? Images of Hattie McDaniel at the back of the room at the 1939 Oscar ceremony.
Seems PEN has lost it's point!
(editor of the 16 year old zine Musea)