New Head of PEN Center Announced

Author and biographer Ron Chernow is set to succeed Salman Rushdie as the head of PEN, the writers’ organization.

“I felt that with the enormous increase in interest in nonfiction, it would be good to have a major nonfiction writer,” Mr. Rushdie said in an interview at the organization’s offices on lower Broadway in SoHo, “especially in view of the problems we’ve seen arise there recently. And his Alexander Hamilton biography constantly reminded me of a time when the best writers in America were also changing American history.”

I have to say, I’m sorry to see Rushdie go. I thought he did a great job the last two years, particularly with the World Voices Festival. This year’s edition will bring many important world writers, among them Orhan Pamuk, Nadine Gordimer, Amartya Sen, and Toni Morrison, to New York for readings. In addition, the festival will feature media stars and polar opposites Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Tariq Ramadan, so it should make for a very interesting discussion on reform in Islam. Unfortunately, however:

Since 2004, though, Mr. Ramadan has been denied a visa by the United States government on grounds of a Patriot Act provision that his writings “endorse or espouse terrorist activity.” Together with the American Civil Liberties Union, PEN has filed suit challenging that decision.

“I felt that more conservative voices were missing last year,” Mr. Rushdie said, “and Ramadan would certainly be one.”

But change is good, and it will be interesting to see what direction Ron Chernow will take the organization. The positions of vice-president and secretary will be taken over by Jhumpa Lahiri and Rick Moody, respectively.