PEN Award for Charlie Hebdo Causes Controversy Among Authors

Electric Lit relies on contributions from our readers to help make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. Please support our work by becoming a member today, or making a one-time donation here.
.

The PEN America Center, an organization dedicated to promoting literature and free speech, is being criticized by some of its members for giving its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper that was attacked by gunmen earlier this year. The authors Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, and Taiye Selasi have pulled out from next week’s PEN’s gala in response. Although the withdrawing authors condemned the murders, they questioned giving an award to a paper that many find offensive to religious groups and the Muslim community in France. “A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” asked Australian novelist Peter Carey.

In response, Salman Rushdie — who was famously targeted for murder for his novel The Satanic Verses — called the six novelists “horribly wrong.”

If PEN as a free-speech organisation can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.

Rushdie and other authors took to Twitter to discuss the controversy:

(Rushdie later apologized for using the sexist word “pussies.”)

More Like This

Porochista Khakpour’s “Brown Album” Takes on Race and Identity in America

The author on Barbie dolls, the false comfort of Americanness, and brown solidarity

Jul 6 - Richa Kaul Padte

The Bear That Stole My Identity

"If I Had a 3D Printer" and "The Charming Bear," two poems by Gary Leising

Jul 6 - Gary Leising

8 Spine-Chilling Books About Occult Mysteries

Supernatural stories about ghosts, magic, and seances

Jul 3 - Lydia Kang
Thank You!