PEN America honors activists, artists and dissidents

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From an imprisoned Ukrainian journalist to a high school activist in Florida, PEN America on Monday night paid tribute to democracy and free speech and warned of the dangers facing the United States and the stranger.

“Instead of being able to focus on menial responsibilities like schoolwork, my generation has been forced to quickly mobilize and fight for our future,” said Florida teenager Jack Petocz, a prominent opponent to the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay”. bill, said Monday. “If our collective voice couldn’t make a difference, then they wouldn’t be trying so hard to silence it.”

On its 100th anniversary, the literary and human rights organization hosted its annual fundraising gala dinner, as some 650 authors, editors, publishers and others gathered at the Museum American Natural History Museum of Manhattan. Petocz received the PEN/Benenson Courage Award, author Zadie Smith the Literary Service Award, and Audible.com founder Donald Katz the Business Visionary Award. Actor-comedian-commentator Faith Salie hosted.

Ukrainian journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko, currently serving a six-year sentence in a Russian labor camp for his reporting in Russian-occupied Crimea, has received the PEN/Barbey Prize for Freedom to Write, given to political prisoners in absentia . Yesypenko’s wife, Kateryna, presented by actor Michael Douglas, spoke on his behalf.

“He thinks people deserve to know what’s going on, to know what the truth is,” she said, speaking in Ukrainian, her words translated by a PEN official. “My husband believes in it so deeply that he is ready to risk his life. I share his commitment.

Some presenters cited personal affinities with the winners. Douglas noted that he had Eastern European ancestry. Katz was introduced by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who recalled that when he was mayor of Newark a decade ago, Katz made the city his base for his audiobook producer and distributor.

“Audible was the first major company to come to Newark when I was mayor,” Booker said. “People had abandoned Newark. People ignored our town. People had declared our town dead.

Smith, the British author known for novels such as ‘White Teeth’ and ‘On Beauty’, wondered why she was receiving an award for her literary services. As she admitted on Monday evening, she has largely confined her “service” to writing books, having “headed no committees, avoided literally all the advice I could, avoided open letters and petitions literary as if they were thrown hand grenades.”

She opposed author-activists such as Simone Weil and Albert Camus and James Baldwin, expressing “her awe and respect” to them, while qualifying her work as a contribution of her own, stating that “thought is also a form of ‘stock “. .”

“I know what I am. I am a novelist. I am sitting in my room. I write. I read. Sometimes when my kids come to me asking me to do something, they say, “You’re literally doing nothing!” “, she said. “To you, I want to confess that I consider it my vocation to put my linguistic gifts at the service of the language itself.”


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