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PEN American Center Honors Charlie Hebdo Staff, Raises $1.4 Million For Freedom Of Expression

PEN 2015 Literary Gala. Photo © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center.

PEN 2015 Literary Gala. Photo © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center.

By Bettina Zilkha

PEN American Center held its annual Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History Monday night, honoring the staff of Charlie Hebdo, Tom Stoppard, Annette Tapert and Khadija Ismayilova. The evening raised a record $1.4 million in support of freedom of expression for writers throughout the world.

Security was tight at the entrance to the museum. SWAT teams with M16 machine guns, trained police dogs and a large NYPD presence kept guests safe. Though a few participants stayed home, some famously out of protest, some out of fear after the recent shooting incident in Dallas – reminiscent of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris – attendance for the Gala, and support for the cause, was at an all-time high.

…Guests were ushered into the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, where they were seated under the enormous fiberglass whale. Newly appointed PEN President Andrew Solomon gave a strong and moving speech.

“One can be castigated for failing to mention the elephant in the room — or in this case, perhaps, the whale in the room,” said Solomon, lightening the mood. “So let me say a few words about the Charlie Hebdo controversy. The defense of people murdered for their exercise of free speech is at the heart of what PEN stands for. So is the unfettered articulation of opposing viewpoints, as we have seen over the last ten days. Charlie Hebdo’s mission of satirizing sacred targets endured despite the firebombing of its office in 2011 and the murder of much of its staff in January. Few people are willing to put themselves in peril to ensure that we are all free to say what we believe. Charlie Hebdo’s current staff has persisted, and tonight’s award reflects their refusal to accept the curtailment of lawful speech through violence.”

(To read the complete report, please visit Forbes.)