Writers open letter to President Trump

PEN America petitions US president to reconsider immigration order

Tinashe Mushakavanhu
4 min readFeb 25, 2017
US President Donald J. Trump Photo: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

His campaign was controversial, and his presidency is no less. Since replacing Obama in the White House, Donald J. Trump, has made policy pronouncements with authoritarian echoes. A few days after assuming office, Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Even though the order has been widely condemned, the White House is set to press on with its controversial immigration policies.

Sixty-five writers and artists have joined with the advocacy organization PEN America to send an open letter to President Trump urging against further measures that would impair “freedom of movement and the global exchange of arts and ideas.”

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:
As writers and artists, we join PEN America in calling on you to rescind your Executive Order of January 27, 2017, and refrain from introducing any alternative measure that similarly impairs freedom of movement and the global exchange of arts and ideas.

In barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, barring all refugees from entering the country for 120 days, and blocking migration from Syria indefinitely, your January Executive Order caused the chaos and hardship of families divided, lives disrupted, and law-abiding faced with handcuffs, detention, and deportation. In so doing, the Executive Order also hindered the free flow of artists and thinkers — and did so at a time when vibrant, open intercultural dialogue is indispensable in the fight against terror and oppression. Its restriction is inconsistent with the values of the United States and the freedoms for which it stands.

The negative impact of the original Executive Order was felt immediately, creating stress and uncertainty for artists of global renown and disrupting major U.S. cultural events. Oscar-nominated director Asghar Farhadi, who is from Iran, expecting to be unable to travel to the Academy Awards ceremony in late February, announced that he will not attend. Syrian singer Omar Souleyman, who performed at the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, may now be prevented from singing at Brooklyn’s World Music Institute in May 2017. The ability of Adonis, an 87-year-old globally celebrated poet who is a French national of Syrian extraction, to attend the May 2017 PEN World Voices Festival in New York remains in question.

Preventing international artists from contributing to American cultural life will not make America safer, and will damage its international prestige and influence. Not only will such a policy prevent great artists from performing, but it will constrict the interchange of important ideas, isolating the U.S. politically and culturally. Reciprocal actions against American citizens, such as those already taken by the governments of Iraq and Iran, will further limit the ability of American artists to move freely.

Arts and culture have the power to enable people to see beyond their differences. Creativity is an antidote to isolationism, paranoia, misunderstanding, and violent intolerance. In the countries most affected by the immigration ban, it is writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers who are often at the vanguard in the fights against oppression and terror. Should it interrupt the ability of artists to travel, perform, and collaborate, such an Executive Order will aid those who would silence essential voices and exacerbate the hatreds that fuel global conflict.

We strongly believe that the immediate and long-term consequences of your original Executive Order are entirely at odds with the national interests of the United States. As you contemplate any potential new measures we respectfully urge you to tailor them narrowly to address only legitimate and substantiated threats and to avoid imposing broad bans that affect millions of people, including the writers, artists and thinkers whose voices and presence help foster international understanding.


Anne Tyler
Lev Grossman
Jhumpa Lahiri
Norman Rush
Chang-rae Lee
Jane Smiley
Janet Malcolm
John Green
Mary Karr
Claire Messud
Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket)
Siri Hustvedt
Paul Auster
Francine Prose
Paul Muldoon
David Henry Hwang
Jessica Hagedorn
Martin Amis
Sandra Cisneros
Dave Eggers
Stephen Sondheim
Jonathan Lethem
Philip Roth
Andrew Solomon
Tobias Wolff
Robert Pinsky
Jonathan Franzen
Jay McInerney
Margaret Atwood
Azar Nafisi
Alec Soth
Nicole Krauss
Colm Toibin
Patrick Stewart
Philip Gourevitch
Robert Caro
Rita Dove
J.M. Coetzee
Anish Kapoor
Rosanne Cash
Zadie Smith
George Packer
John Waters
Art Spiegelman
Susan Orlean
Elizabeth Strout
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Teju Cole
Alice Sebold
Esmeralda Santiago
Stacy Schiff
Jeffrey Eugenides
Khaled Hosseini
Rick Moody
Hanya Yanagihara
Chimamanda Adichie
John Lithgow
Simon Schama
Colum McCann
Sally Mann
Jules Feiffer
Luc Tuymans
Michael Chabon
Ayelet Waldman
Orhan Pamuk