Pham Doan Trang, Imprisoned Vietnamese Writer and Dissident, to Receive PEN America’s Freedom to Write Award at NYC Gala May 16


PEN America  | April 11, 2024

(NEW YORK)– PEN America announced today that Vietnamese author, journalist and dissident Pham Doan Trang will receive the 2024 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award on May 16 at the organization’s annual literary gala.

The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award is given each year to a jailed writer of conscience. Last year’s conferral of the award to imprisoned Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi kicked off a global campaign that culminated in Mohammadi being awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize in December.

For this year’s gala, the writers and free expression organization also announced that bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell and actor-filmmaker-producer Tyler Perry will be among the cultural and literary luminaries participating in the program. In March, PEN America announced that singer-songwriter Paul Simon will receive the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award at the gala and Almar Latour, CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, will receive the Business Visionary award.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “Pham Doan Trang has galvanized the Vietnamese people through her writings on democracy, human rights, environmental degradation, and women’s empowerment. The Vietnamese government has persecuted and jailed Trang in an effort to still her voice.  She has sacrificed her health and freedom in the pursuit of justice.   Despite the government’s crackdown on dissent and activism, her powerful words continue to inspire people across Vietnam and throughout the world. We are honored to elevate Trang’s voice for democracy and human rights through our global campaign.”

Trang, 45, was arrested in 2020 for spreading “anti-state propaganda,” sentenced to nine years in prison, then, as further punishment, moved to a remote prison 900 miles from her home, where her family can visit only infrequently. During her imprisonment, she has been denied medical treatment and her health has suffered. She walks with a permanent limp, as the result of a beating by police during an environmental protest in 2015.

Profile: Who is Pham Doan Trang?

The prolific author, blogger and journalist published several books about democracy, including Non-Violent Resistance, Politics for the Common People, A Handbook for Freedom Fighters and Politics of a Police State. Vietnamese authorities have targeted her books and confiscated them; individuals who are found with the books face threats of being charged with spreading anti-state propaganda.

In 2019, anticipating her arrest, she called on supporters through a letter and video to continue to fight for democratic reform and the release of prisoners of conscience. She wrote, “I don’t want freedom for just myself; that’s too easy. / I want something greater: freedom for Vietnam. / It might seem like some grand goal, but it’s totally possible—with your support.”

PEN America has issued numerous calls over the years for Trang’s release and denouncing the injustice of her convictions and imprisonments. The organization has called for the repeal of Vietnamese legislation that goes against international norms on free expression, including the article in the Vietnamese Penal Code under which Trang is unfairly charged.

Trang’s lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, who now lives in the United States after fleeing Vietnam due to government harassment of his legal work, and Trang’s friend, Quynh-Vi Tran, co-founder and executive director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, who lives in Taiwan, will receive the award on her behalf.

The star-studded and high-profile gala brings together 700 + writers, journalists, publishers, editors, humanitarians, and cultural influencers to support PEN America’s global literary and arts programming and advocacy for the right to free expression and the freedoms to speak, read and write. It will be held for the 15th year at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History.

The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award is a powerful tool in PEN America’s efforts to end the persecution of writers and defend free expression; in 2022 more than 311 writers worldwide were imprisoned and 800 more are persecuted by oppressive government in 80 countries, according to PEN America’s 2023 Freedom to Write Index.

The award is a springboard for PEN’s advocacy for the writers it honors. Of the 53 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 46 have been released due in part to the awareness and pressure the award generates.


Malcolm Gladwell is the author of several New York Times bestsellers — The Tipping PointBlinkOutliersWhat the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. He is also the co-founder of Pushkin Industries, an audio company that produces podcasts like Revisionist HistoryBroken Record, and The Happiness Lab as well as audiobooks like Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon and So Many Steves with Steve Martin. Gladwell has been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list and touted as one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers.

Tyler Perry is an actor, director, screenwriter, producer, playwright, author, and philanthropist.  He started his career writing plays, many of which became the inspiration for his films, including the legendary “Madea.” The Madea franchise has grossed over $1 billion at the box office and Tyler’s entertainment enterprise has raked in over $2 billion. Tyler Perry has produced over 1,600 episodes of television and directed, written, and produced 28 feature films. In 2019, Perry celebrated the historic opening of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.  He received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2021 Oscars, and the Governors Award at the 2020 Emmys. Perry currently has a multiyear first-look deal with Netflix to write, direct, and produce features and television for the streaming service, and he is also in business with Amazon, setting a four-movie deal, as well as the documentary about his life, Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free 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. Learn more at

Contact: Suzanne Trimel,, 201-247-5057




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