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PEN American Center welcomes Deji Olukotun as first Freedom to Write Fellow

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, September 6, 2011 - PEN American Center today announced that Deji Olukotun, a lawyer and writer with extensive international development and advocacy experience, is the recipient of a new Ford Foundation-sponsored 18-month fellowship in PEN's flagship Freedom to Write Program. As the organization's first Freedom to Write Fellow, Olukotun will concentrate on expanding partnerships with PEN centers in countries with acute free
expression challenges and promoting respect for core human rights values in the United States.

"As we prepare to enter our 90th year, we're extremely proud of our Freedom to Write program, which is, pound for pound, one of the most effective programs I've ever seen," said Steven Isenberg, PEN's executive director. "But in a world where freedom of expression remains such a risky proposition for so many, there is much more to do, and we have long dreamed of what it would mean to be able to add somebody with Deji's background and talents to our team. We are so grateful to the Ford Foundation for making this fellowship possible, and thrilled that he is joining us for this important anniversary year."

"Joining PEN is a dream come true," Olukotun said. "PEN combines cutting-edge advocacy with the world's best writers and thinkers."

Olukotun, who holds a B.A. in history from Yale, masters degrees in conflict resolution and creative writing from the University of Cape Town, and a law degree from Stanford, comes to PEN from the American Jewish World Service, where he negotiated and provided grants to NGOs in Haiti, Sudan, and a number of other countries; prior to that, as a program officer for the U.S. Human Rights Fund, Olukotun oversaw grants to more than 40 international human rights organizations. He has also worked on the ground in a variety of settings, representing refugees in Cape Town, South Africa, clerking for the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, and consulting for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. In 2008, he founded the web site FictionthatMatters.org, which aims to increase the role human rights play in people's lives by exploring the link between human rights and creative stories.

"I have always believed that creative artists can effect change, and PEN proves that they can," Olukotun said. "It is truly an honor to have the chance to help advance the freedom to write around the globe through this fellowship."

Olukotun will immediately assume the Freedom to Write Fellowship, an 18-month appointment made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The position enables PEN to develop new international advocacy partnerships modeled on its successful collaboration with the Independent Chinese PEN Center focusing on freedom of expression in China; augment its long-running human rights advocacy at the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations; and meet the growing demands of its groundbreaking domestic Core Freedoms initiative, which includes the innovative "Reckoning With Torture" national film project PEN has launched in partnership with the ACLU and film director Doug Liman.

"I simply cannot overstate what it means to the momentum of our work to be able to add this position, and how wonderfully Deji's passions, background, and skills align with our mission and aspirations," said Larry Siems, director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center, to whom Deji will report. "He joins a program with a legendary history and an already formidable team that includes our Freedom to Write Program Coordinator Sarah Hoffman, our Freedom to Write Committee Chair Hannah Pakula and a small army of extremely experienced and committed PEN American Center member volunteers, and an international network of PEN advocates on the ground in more than 100 countries. With Deji's help, we look forward to making our collective presence felt even more widely in the coming year."

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