J.K. Rowling to Receive Literary Service Award from PEN

by Melissa Ragsdale

PEN America announced that this year’s PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award will go to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling for her efforts to fight inequality and censorship. In addition to noting Rowling’s contributions to imagination, empathy, and love of reading (and her journey from single mother to literary star), PEN also credited Rowling’s humanitarian work, including the founding of Lumos, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children in institutions worldwide, and The Volant Charitable Trust, which works towards alleviating social deprivation and researching treatments for Multiple Sclerosis.

Rowling told the AP that she was “deeply honored” and “humbled” by the award. She also said that she has “long been a supporter of PEN, which does invaluable work on behalf of imprisoned writers and in defense of freedom of speech.”

Previous recipients of the Literary Service Award include Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, and Tom Stoppard.

In a statement released earlier today, PEN President Andrew Solomon elaborated on the organization’s decision to honor Rowling: “Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humor, 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 also announced that its 2016 Publisher Honoree would be Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Group. Pietsch has worked as an editor for David Foster Wallace, James Patterson, Donna Tartt, among others. PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel praised Pietsch for having “painstakingly reaffirmed literature as more than a consumer good: as a cultural currency in need of vehement protection.

The recipient of this year’s PEN Freedom to Write Award, which annually recognizes an imprisoned writer, has yet to be named.

The awards will be handed out on May 16th at the PEN America Literary Gala. Last year’s Gala, as you may recall, was a hotbed of controversy after PEN awarded the PEN/James and Toni C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the staff of Charlie Hebdo, sparking a debate about freedom of expression, satire, ethnic caricature and religious tolerance.

This year’s recipient of the Goodale Award has yet to be announced. There will, however, be at least one connection to Charlie Hebdo at this year’s Gala. PEN noted that in January, under Pietsch’s helm, Hachette published Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression, a posthumous book from slain Charlie Hebdo editor, Charb.

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