At this year's star-studded PEN America Literary Gala, held Tuesday evening at the American Museum of National History in Manhattan and emceed by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, the literary not-for-profit honored Scholastic chairman and CEO Richard Robinson and author and journalist Bob Woodward, among others, for their work defending freedom of expression and the First Amendment.
Robinson was the evening's publishing honoree, and was introduced by Alec Baldwin, who read aloud comments by Robinson's author J.K. Rowling, who won the 2016 PEN America Literary Service Award. In his remarks, Robinson called reading a "civil right," quoting Phyllis Hunter, the literacy scholar and former adviser to the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education. "The history of Scholastic in this area [of freedom of expression] has often been controversial," Robinson said. "We have been banned in schools in the ‘30s and ‘50s for being too soft on communism; in the ‘40s and the ‘60s for promoting liberal views on race, civil rights, and the Vietnam War; in the ‘70s for articles on student rights—not a popular subject in schools; in the 80s and 90s for climate change; and in the 2000s for the Iraq war. Despite these controversies and temporary bans, schools have relied on our balanced approach to help the young gain basic knowledge about their world, with the larger goal of helping kids know how to build and maintain a fragile democracy.”
Woodward, introduced by fellow revered journalist and author and Robert Caro, a two-time winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, received this year's PEN America Literary Service Award. Woodward invited his former colleague Carl Bernstein, with whom he broke news of the Watergate scandal, to share the stage with him. "Ben Bradlee, the editor at the [Washington Post], used to tell us how you deal with the stress of reporting a story when it's hard," Woodward said in his remarks. "Nose down, ass up, moving slowly forward to the truth.”
Other honorees at the gala included Anita Hill, the professor, lawyer, activist, and chair of the Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, and Saudi writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan.
The gala, PEN America representatives noted, raises more than $2.6 million for the organization.
The remarks by Robinson and Woodward can be streamed in the videos below: