The annual PEN Literary Gala, held at the American Museum of Natural History on Monday, honored Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, author J.K. Rowling, imprisoned Egyptian journalist Ahmed Naji, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Lee-Anne Walters, who helped break the story of lead pollution in the water system in Flint, Mich.
Literati including Salman Rushdie, Walter Mosley, Gay and Nan Talese, Donna Tartt, and Alexander Chee were in attendance at the event, which PEN president Andrew Solomon declared their "largest gala ever." Solomon noted that the evening raised a record $1.75 million toward PEN's goal of promoting free speech. PEN America also revealed a new logo—a square speech balloon—which Solomon said represented the organization's core beliefs: "speaking, writing, and thinking."
Tartt introduced Pietsch, the evening's publisher honoree, who called for publishers to be optimistic about the business and dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to the protection of freedom of speech. Following dinner, Walters and Hanna-Attisha, recipients of the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, received a standing ovation for their work in Flint.
Actress Sarah Jessica Parker introduced Rowling, recipient of the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award. The Harry Potter author, in her award speech, condemned the views of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump—then made clear that her condemnation did not equate to silencing. "I consider him offensive and bigoted, but he has my full support to come to my country," she said, in reference to a petition to ban Trump from the U.K. "His freedom of speech protects my freedom to call him a bigot."
Following Rowling, PEN executive director Suzanne Nossel called the attendees into action to protect free speech worldwide, and Naji's younger brother, Mohamed, accepted the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award on his behalf, to another standing ovation.
“We at PEN are a noisy, obstreperous lot,” Solomon said in his remarks. “Silence is not so golden around here.”