May 4, 2015

Neil Gaiman and Art Spiegelman will cross the picket line for the PEN gala


PEN American CenterAfter numerous writers including Peter Carey, Rachel Kushner and Teju Cole pulled out of PEN’s annual gala in protest of its decision to offer the Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo–a protest that has prompted over 200 other major writers to join the exodus—authors George Packer, Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman, and Alison Bechdel are among the writers who have signed on to replace them as hosts at the ceremony scheduled for May 5. 

In an email to the New York Times, Gaiman wrote:

The Charlie Hebdo PEN award is for courage. The courage to work after the 2011 firebombing of the offices, the courage to put out their magazine in the face of murder . . . If we cannot applaud that, then we might as well go home…I’ll be proud to host a table on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, the list of protesting writers has grown from the original 6 who withdrew to 204. Their names and the letter they’ve signed are reprinted in their entirety below:

April 26, 2015

In March it was announced that the PEN Literary Gala, to be held May 5th 2015, would honor the magazine Charlie Hebdo with the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award in response to the January 7 attacks that claimed the lives of many members of its editorial staff.

It is clear and inarguable that the murder of a dozen people in the Charlie Hebdo offices is sickening and tragic. What is neither clear nor inarguable is the decision to confer an award for courageous freedom of expression on Charlie Hebdo, or what criteria, exactly were used to make that decision.

We do not believe in censoring expression. An expression of views, however disagreeable, is certainly not to be answered by violence or murder.

However, there is a critical difference between staunchly supporting. expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were characterized as satire and “equal opportunity offense,” and the magazine seems to be entirely sincere in its anarchic expressions of principled disdain toward organized religion. But in an unequal society, equal opportunity offence does not have an equal effect.

Power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire. The inequities between the person holding the pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen cannot, and must not, be ignored.

To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.

Our concern is that, by bestowing the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award on Charlie Hebdo, PEN is not simply conveying support for freedom of expression, but also valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.

In our view, PEN America could have chosen to confer its PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award upon any of a number of journalists and whistleblowers who have risked, and sometimes lost, their freedom (and even their lives) in service of the greater good.

PEN is an essential organization in the global battle for freedom of expression. It is therefore particularly disheartening to see that PEN

America has chosen to honor the work and mission of Charlie Hebdo above those who not only exemplify the principles of free expression, but whose courage, even when provocative or discomfiting, has also been fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity.

We the undersigned, as writers, thinkers, and members of PEN, therefore respectfully wish to disassociate ourselves from PEN America’s decision to give the 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo.

Chris Abani

Hosam M. Aboul-Ela

Leslie Absher

Elizabeth Adams

Ali Jimale Ahmed

Lauren K. Alleyne

Sinan Antoon

Judith Appelbaum

Nicole Aragi

Michael Archer

Tony Ardizzone

Sarah Arvio

Gabeba Baderoon

Deborah Baker

Russell Banks

Susan Bell

Naomi Benaron

Helen Benedict

Christopher Benfey

Cara Benson

Charles Ramírez Berg

Susan Bernofsky

Eric Bogosian

Robert Bononno

Barrie Jean Borich

Blanche McCrary Boyd

Adam Braver

Donald Breckenridge

Rita Nakashima Brock

Ami Sands Brodoff

Karen Brown Brooks

Edward Burlingame

Janet Burroway

Viola Canales

Helene Cardona

Peter Carey

John Casey

Bryn Chancellor

Myriam J. A. Chancy

Hayan Charara

Bell Gale Chevigny

Rita Zoey Chin

Angie Chuang

Catherine Chung

Jane Ciabattari

Carmela Ciuraru

Patricia Clark

Tony Cohan

Teju Cole

Michael Cunningham

Emily M. Danforth

Tod Davies

Annabel Davis-Goff

Siddhartha Deb

Jason Diamond

Junot Díaz

Stephen Dobyns

Geoff Dyer

Erin Edmison

Brent Hayes Edwards

Brian T. Edwards

Marshall Efron

Deborah Eisenberg

Susan Eisenberg

Hedi El Kholti

Trey Ellis

Eve Ensler

Elizabeth Enslin

Barbara Epler

Jennifer Cody Epstein

Ali Eteraz

Percival Everett

Joshua Ferris

Marlon L. Fick

Boris Fishman

Stona Fitch

Frances FitzGerald

Peter H. Fogtdal

Seánan Forbes

Ashley Ford

Linda Nemec Foster

Lauren Francis-Sharma

Edwin Frank

Judith Frank

John Freeman

Ru Freeman

Nell Freudenberger

Molly Friedrich

Joshua Furst

Gretchen Gerzina

Keith Gessen

Francisco Goldman

John Guare

Conner Habib

Jessica Hagedorn

Brian Hall

Theodore Hamm

Lis Harris

Kathryn Harrison

Jonathan T. Hine Jr.

Edward Hoagland

Laura Hoffmann

Nancy Horan

Marya Hornbacher

Sandra Hunter

Megan Hustad

Randa Jarrar

T. Geronimo Johnson

Paul Kane

John Keahey

Uzma Aslam Khan

Dave King

Gilbert King

Robert Spencer Knotts

Ruth Ellen Kocher

Nancy Kricorian

Amitava Kumar

Rachel Kushner

Amy Lawless

Zachary Lazar

David Leavitt

Jonathan Lee

Katherine Leiner

Ben Lerner

Ted Lewin

Ed Lin

Michael Lindgren

Julie Livingston

Craig Lucas

Doug Magee

Ann Malaspina

Janet Malcolm

Charlotte Mandell

C. M. Mayo

Patrick McGrath

Clarissa McNair

Deena Metzger

Thais Miller

Kyle Minor

Rick Moody

Skye Moody

Lorrie Moore

Dolan Morgan

James McGrath Morris

Bradford Morrow

Judith Nies

Idra Novey

Stephen O’Connor

Joyce Carol Oates

Alfa-Betty Olsen

Michael Ondaatje

Peter Orner

Duvall Osteen

Raj Patel

Chris Pavone

William Pierce

Francine Prose

Marcus Rediker

Adam Rex

Clay Risen

Roxana Robinson

David Roediger

Paul Rome

Mark Rotella

Jess Row

Gina Ruiz

Luc Sante

Steven Schroeder

Sarah Schulman

Taiye Selasi

Elissa Schappell

Danzy Senna

Vijay Seshadri

Kamila Shamsie

Jeff Sharlet

Wallace Shawn

Matthew Shenoda

Nancy Shiffrin

Russell Shorto

Elisabeth Sifton

Charles Simic

Tom Sleigh

Holly Goldberg Sloan

Alexis M. Smith

Jill Smolowe

Linda Spalding

Scott Spencer

Betsy Sussler

Emily Gray Tedrowe

Roy A. Teel Jr.

Michael Thomas

Ted Thompson

Kathleen Tolan

Joanne Turnbull

Chase Twichell

Padma Venkatraman

Jasmine Dreame Wagner

Eliot Weinberger

Jon Wiener

Elizabeth Winthrop

Sung J. Woo

G. K. Wuori

Matvei Yankelevich

Dave Zirin



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.