NEW YORK, December 11, 2023 – PEN America announces today the election of Jennifer Finney Boylan, the celebrated breakthrough author and LGBTQ rights advocate, as president of PEN America, the century-old organization in the vanguard of defending free expression and writers under threat worldwide.

Jennifer Finney Boylan

Boylan, who has served as a vice president of the PEN America board of trustees, has published 18 books, including novels, thrillers, memoirs and the Falcon Quinn adventure series for young adults. Her two bestselling memoirs She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (2003), the first ever bestseller by a transgender American, and I’m Looking Through You (2008) focused on her life experience as a trans woman. In early 2025, she will publish a book that examines the differences between men and women seen through her eyes. Most recently, she and Jodi Picoult co-authored the bestselling novel Mad Honey, about a teen’s trial for murder.

Boylan has served on the PEN America board since 2018, the last two years on the executive committee. Previously, she served as national co-chair of GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit.

Boylan assumes the presidency at the Dec. 11 board meeting. That evening, she will speak at the organization’s annual general meeting in New York City.

Boylan succeeds Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer-winning playwright, novelist, and screenwriter, whose three-year term as president saw remarkable growth for PEN America with staff growing, the doubling of the organization’s budget and new programs added: the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, which documents and defends writers and intellectuals worldwide who have fallen under government reprisal; its first-ever Florida director this year with the state office supported by a group of bestselling authors and an increase in local chapter cities to a total of 10 across the country. Ayad will remain on the Board of Trustees as Vice President.

With rising censorship of books, Boylan said she wants to be a voice in support of free expression for all, including liberal and conservative viewpoints and those from all backgrounds and identities. She points to the power she found in stories about the lives of trans people as one inspiration for joining the PEN America board five years ago and becoming involved in a wide range of global free expression advocacy issues.

“Nothing opens hearts and minds as quickly as powerful stores,” she said. “And that’s why there are people even now trying to silence voices, by banning books, shouting down opposing viewpoints, legislating what can be taught and studied in classrooms and imposing strictures on who can tell which stories. All these efforts to silence and repress are evidence of the power for change in narrative. I’m most passionate about having everyone’s stories heard, told, and published because that is the way to evolve our culture and allow all people to realize their potential.”

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “Jenny is a trailblazer, an empathetic and original voice and a fierce advocate for free expression everywhere. She is uniquely positioned to champion and promote free inquiry and the freedom to read and write which is under profound attack both in the U.S. and around the world. We believe her leadership and willingness to face controversy and challenges head on are critical at this moment.”

In addition to her writing and speaking, Boylan is on the faculty of Barnard College in New York City, where she also is the first Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence. Since 2022, she has been a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. For 15 years until 2022, she was a contributing opinion columnist at The New York Times.

READ a Q and A with Boylan about her involvement with PEN America, why its mission to defend free expression inspires her and what she hopes to accomplish over the next three years of her presidency.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.