PEN America honors activists, artists and dissidents

NEW YORK (AP) — From a jailed Ukrainian journalist to a Florida teen activist, PEN America has paid tribute to democracy and free speech and warned of the dangers they face in the United States and abroad.

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

To mark its 100th anniversary, the human rights and literary organization held its annual gala fundraiser dinner, with some 650 authors, publishers, publishers and others gathered at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Petocz received the PEN/Benenson Courage Award, author Zadie Smith the Literary Service Award and founder Donald Katz the Business Visionary Award. Actress, comedian and commentator Faith Salie was the host.

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

“He believes that people deserve to know what is going on, to know what the truth is,” he said in Ukrainian, through a PEN official who served as an interpreter. “My husband believes this so deeply that he is willing to risk his life. I share your commitment.”

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Some presenters mentioned personal affinities with the honorees. Douglas noted that he had ancestors from Eastern Europe. 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 headquarters for the audiobook producer and distributor.

“Audible was the first major company to move to Newark when I was mayor,” Booker said. “People had given up on Newark. People ignored our city. People had declared our city dead.”

Smith, the British writer known for such novels as “White Teeth” and “On Beauty,” wondered why she was receiving an award for her literary service. As he acknowledged Monday night, he has largely limited his “service” to writing books: “I didn’t head committees, I avoided literally every meeting I could, I got out of the way of open letters and literary requests like they were hand thrown”.

He contrasted himself with activist authors such as Simone Weil, Albert Camus and James Baldwin, for whom he expressed “wonder and respect”, and called their work his own kind of contribution, stating that “thought is also a form of action”.

“I know what I am. I am a novelist. I sit in my room. I write. Leo. Sometimes when my kids come asking me to do something, they’re like, ‘You’re literally doing nothing!’” she said. “I want to confess to you that I consider my vocation to put the linguistic skills I have at the service of language itself.”

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