PEN America has cancelled its annual literary awards after dozens of nominated writers withdrew their work in protest over its response to the Israel-Hamas war.

The writers organisation, which is dedicated to protecting free expression, said of the 61 authors and translators nominated for a prize, 28 writers chose to withdraw their books from consideration.

It comes after renowned writers criticised PEN for an alleged lack of support for Palestinian writers in a series of open letters.

The award ceremony had been set to take place on April 29 at The Town Hall in New York City, but has now been cancelled.

Last month, esteemed authors including Naomi Klein and Michelle Alexander, signed an open letter claiming PEN had not launched “any substantial coordinated support” for the writers in Gaza or Palestinian speech broadly.

The letter also said PEN had “betrayed the organisation’s professed commitment to peace and equality for all, and to freedom and security for writers everywhere”.

PEN responded to the allegations, citing they “stand alongside the writers of Gaza”, had called for an immediate ceasefire and reiterated their expansion of support for Palestinian writers through a PEN emergency fund.

Announcing the decision that the literary awards were to be cancelled, PEN America’s literary programming chief officer Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf said: “We greatly respect that writers have followed their consciences, whether they chose to remain as nominees in their respective categories or not.

“We regret that this unprecedented situation has taken away the spotlight from the extraordinary work selected by esteemed, insightful and hard-working judges across all categories.

“As an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression and writers, our commitment to recognising and honouring outstanding authors and the literary community is steadfast.”

The estate of late US author Jean Stein also directed PEN America to donate the 75,000 dollar (£61,000) prize for the award in her name to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund – to honour the nine out of 10 nominated writers who withdrew their work for the award.

In a statement, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Wendy Vanden Heuvel, and Bill Clegg, on behalf of the foundation and the literary estate of Jean Stein, said: “Jean Stein was a passionate advocate for Palestinian rights who published, supported, and celebrated Palestinian writers and visual artists.

“While she established the PEN America award in her name to bring attention to and provide meaningful support to writers of the highest literary achievement, we know she would have respected the stance and sacrifice of the writers who have withdrawn from contention this year.”