500 Pens is a coalition of writers and photographers who believe in the power of stories to help us learn from and better understand one another and to serve as a reminder that there is more that unites us than divides us. 

We write news stories rooted in the values we hold dear: inclusion, opportunity and respect, and we aim to produce honest and compelling content that encourages readers to care, connect and act. Our coverage features innovative social justice, activism and advocacy efforts; highlights valuable contributions by members of marginalized groups; explores the impact hate crimes and bias-related incidents have on people and communities; and profiles those who attempt to heal, unite and stand up for others.

Our project began in November 2016 when our founder approached the Southern Poverty Law Center and volunteered to help cover news related to social justice, advocacy and anti-bias programs. Hoping to gather a handful of writers to help, she posted on Facebook. In a few days, more than 500 writers responded. Soon, the project was expanded to include more storytellers and to produce more stories. The result was 500 Pens, an anti-hate news project entirely run by volunteers, which launched in May 2017.

Our work is donated to nonprofit organizations such as our founding partner, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or featured on this website.

Founder & Editor

Melissa Sher is a writer, editor, content strategist and public relations consultant. She was lifestyle editor-at-large for HuffPost Creative Labs and has contributed to The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune, among others. Sher’s personal blog was chosen as one of the top 100 parenting blogs in the country (top 10 for humor) by Disney’s Babble Media. She also served as the publicity supervisor for several Warner Bros. Domestic Television properties including “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.”   

Advisory Committee

Julie Burstein is a Peabody Award-winning radio producer and the creator of “Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen,” public radio’s program about creativity, entertainment and the arts. She is a TED speaker, consultant and the bestselling author of Spark: How Creativity Works.

Rebecca Carroll is Editor of Special Projects at WNYC and host of “How I Got Over: Reinventing Language Around Race.” She is the author of five books and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and New York magazine, among others.

Caleb Gardner is the co-founder of the digital talent collective 18 Coffees and a digital media expert with Bain & Company. Caleb previously served as the lead strategist and editorial voice for President Obama’s political advocacy group, Organizing for Action, and has more than a decade of digital leadership and social impact experience.

Carolyn Horwitz has held key editorial roles at Entrepreneur, Variety and other magazines. She has written and edited several books on art, architecture and design, including The Lending of Courage: American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial and Dealer’s Choice: At Home With Purveyors of Antique and Vintage Furnishings.

Maud Newton is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine and many other publications. She’s writing a book for Random House about ancestors and the stories we tell ourselves about them.

Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992 and is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film Adaptation. She also co-hosts the podcast, “Crybabies,” with actor Sarah Thyre.

Heidi Pitlor is an editor and the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage. Since 2007, she has been the series editor for The Best American Short Stories where she has worked with guest editors Stephen King, Richard Russo and Geraldine Brooks, among others.  

Lizzie Skurnick is the author of Shelf Discovery and That Should Be A Word. She is the founding editor of YA imprint Lizzie Skurnick Books as well as a public speaker and consultant who contributes to The New York Times Magazine, NPR and many other outlets.     

Accuracy & Ethics

Karin Matz runs 500 PENS’ Accuracy and Ethics Committee, a group made up of journalism professors, journalists, attorneys and fact-checkers who oversee our writing guidelines and fact-checking procedures. Matz has worked as a producer at CNN, Reuters and local broadcast outlets in Chicago, Miami and Dallas. She is currently an adjunct professor, teaching print and broadcast journalism, at Richland College in Dallas.

Assistant Editor

Susan Hoffmann lives in California, where she writes personal essays inspired by her family. She has retired from a long career in art museum education, having written educational materials and taught classes for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She also wrote promotional materials for the California Institute of Technology and the Art Center College of Design, where she taught courses on modern art.

Supervising Copy Editor

Barbara Spindel is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Slate, the Atlantic, the Daily Beast, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Barnes & Noble Review, Details, Tablet and other publications. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies.

We thank these artists:

Dan Stiles, an award-winning illustrator and designer, created the 500 Pens’ logo. He combines illustration and design in his award-winning visual work. Over the past 20 years, Dan has collaborated with everyone from indie bands to major corporations in creating identities, advertising, custom packaging, and limited edition collectable art and merchandise. His clients range from Death Cab for Cutie and Sonic Youth to the X Games and Google. He is the author of several books, both for children and adults.

Mark Usmiani, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, created the 500 Pens’ banner. He is best known for his vector illustrations with heavy focuses on shape and color. His vivid, saturated illustrations draw inspiration from old school video games and cartoons and most of his work is created in repetition, exploring a single palette or idea.

Kate Barsotti, a writer and illustrator for children, as well as a fiber artist, created the 500 Pens’ “story pen.” She is currently working on a middle-grade fantasy book set in the nineteenth-century Ozarks.