Writers Uncomfortable with Charlie Hebdo Honor Withdraw from PEN Gala

Six member novelists have chosen to bow out of May 5 New York event.

When the PEN American Center presents its Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo on May 5 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, at least six host organization members will by choice not be present. Per a report Sunday in the New York Times, novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala in protest:

Mr. Carey, in an email interview Saturday, said the award stepped beyond the group’s traditional role of protecting freedom of expression against government oppression. “A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” he wrote.

“All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation,” Carey added, “which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

PEN American president Andrew Solomon sent an email to organization trustees on Sunday, acknowledging the withdrawals but also defending – per AP – the “appropriateness” of the Courage award. Salman Rushdie, a former PEN president, told the Times he thinks the decision by Ondaatje, Carey and the others is “horribly wrong.”