Musea E-mail Club #472 PEN the writing organization – a look at the prizes

Dear Reader, Perhaps you have heard of the writers organization called PEN. See the PEN website at

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

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! Tom Hendricks (editor of the 16 year old zine Musea)


6 Responses to “Musea E-mail Club #472 PEN the writing organization – a look at the prizes”

  1. Corrie Hurbon Says:

    Donald Ray Pollock is a guy who doesn’t have a job, and who can’t get his job at the paper mill back because of the economy. The Robert Bingham Award probably kept him from taking the year off writing to work at the Jiffy Mart in Chillicothe, Ohio. His total advance from Random House was around $10,000, and I’m sure that was long gone. I don’t think he’s a really good target for your derision.

  2. musea Says:

    Corrie, I will pass this information to King.

  3. musea Says:

    Corrie, I’ve been thinking about this. To be honest, I’m a fine writer too with a life time of good solid work. I work minimum wage. Yet I don’t have any Random House money. I think I and others like me without the publishing deal, and equally as good writers, deserve the prizes more than Mr. Pollock.

  4. Corrie Hurbon Says:

    Have you read Knockemstiff? It’s a really, really good book, I mean really better than almost anything I’ve ever read. Do you really think you’re a better writer than Mr. Pollock? I mean, certainly merit ought to factor in as well as need. I’m unpublished, and I’d like the money, too, but I don’t think I deserve the prize more than Pollock.

  5. musea Says:

    YES! I’ve also set up a world wide Zine Hall of Fame, and I think most of them are as good or better.

  6. King Wenclas Says:

    It sounds to me like Mr. Pollock should be on our side of things. As is, he’s used as a token working class writer, properly cleaned up through an MFA program (see Raymond Carver), being used as window dressing by a gigantic conglomerate.
    WHY was his advance only ten grand, when well-connected rich writers get a million?
    The problem IS the system, which is what writers like Tom and myself are attacking.
    How much money are Random House execs making?
    I’ve posted on my blog what PEN execs make. Much more goes to PEN salaries than to writers.
    PEN should be working to change this, insyead of in-bed with gigantic conglomerates.
    What the DIY movement is about is giving power back to writers themselves– writers like Pollock. It’s an arduous fight, made more difficult when our own people oppose us.
    By the way, I too am from a broken city– I just left Detroit in February. I’ve seen the dismantling of industrail America, and the destruction of the working class, for most of my life. I’ve seen family and friends economically destroyed. You DON’T change this by selling out to the monopolists who’ve caused the problem– or by refusing to fight back.
    The fact is that the global media monopolies are working to marginalize American writers, save for a handful. The same thing is happening to the U.S. book industry that happened to the U.S. auto industry. I’ll be exploring this on my main blog. I hope you watch for it.
    In the meantime, please read
    and consider joining the fight.
    We’re actually on the same side.

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