J K Rowling has been honoured by PEN America with the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award. The Harry Potter author received the award for her work that "opposes oppression in any form" and "champions the best of humanity".
Rowling attended PEN America’s annual Literary Gala last night (16th May) to collect her award from actor Sarah Jessica Parker at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Rowling called PEN's campaigns in defence of imprisoned writers around the world "essential" , although "it is sad to reflect how needed your defence of writers continues to be today".
There, in response to a recent petition, she also took the opportunity to warn against barring Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump from the UK in defence of free speech.
"I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted," said Rowling. "But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine. Unless we take that absolute position, without caveats or apologies, we have set foot on a road with only one destination. If my offended feelings can justify a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral grounds on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the fight for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes."
Rowling joins the ranks of previous winners that have included Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and the late E.L. Doctorow for their work in defending freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas.
Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America said: “Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humour, and a love of reading, along the way revealing moral choices that help us understand ourselves. Through their experiences with Rowling both on and off the page, countless children have learned not only the power of speaking their own minds, but the critical importance of hearing others. A gifted storyteller, fierce opponent of censorship, advocate for women’s and girls’ rights, and staunch defender of access to education, Rowling uses all of the tools at her disposal to create a better and more just world for our children.”
PEN's annual publishing award was presented to Hachette Book Group c.e.o. Michael Pietsch by The Goldfinch author Donna Tartt for his "leadership in the fight against censorship". Pietsch, an editor of 30 years, is credited in galvanising American publishers in a PEN initiative to resist official censorship in China; it led to a pledge by top houses to address unauthorised changes in translations. Hachette also published Charlie Hebdo editor Charb's posthumous anti-censorship work, Open Letter.
PEN executive director Suzanne Nossel said: “As new technologies continually expand the space for creativity and new ideas to find a global audience, repressive forces are increasingly eager to silence those who challenge the status quo. Michael knows that writers who dare to see the world clearly are also those who ultimately have the greatest impact. As a leader in the fight against pervasive censorship, he has painstakingly reaffirmed literature as more than a consumer good: as a cultural currency in need of vehement protection.”
Picture: © Mary McCartney