PEN America held its annual Literary Gala on Tuesday at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. The event drew roughly 1,000 people and raised more than $2.2 million to support PEN’s mission, which PEN American CEO Suzanne Nossel described as “celebrating literature, defending free expression in the U.S. and around the world, elevating marginalized voices, and fostering literary fellowship and dialogue across boundaries.”
During the gala, this year’s PEN American Literary Service Award was presented to Stephen King for what PEN cited as not only his accomplishments as a writer but also “his role at the intersection of three core elements of PEN America’s mission: humanitarianism, telling stories that humanize the unseen, and the writer as activist.”
The Publisher Honoree was Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, the parent company of King’s publisher, Scribner. In keeping with what has become something of a tradition from each year's Publisher Honoree, Reidy delivered an address that firmly supported the importance of free speech in a democratic society.
As a publisher, Reidy said, “it is repugnant when someone, anyone—whether it is the general public, media pundits, local school boards, or the government—tries to stop us from publishing, to dictate who or what we can publish, or to limit who can purchase or read the books that we publish.” She also touched on the need for people to be willing to listen to the ideas of those that they may disagree with, rather than only looking to people with ideas that they already support.
Given all the forces in the world today anxious to quell freedom of speech, Reidy proclaimed that “it is thus all the more important to reassert our core belief that free speech, the actual discussion and debate of ideas...is and needs to remain the right of every citizen in our society, along with our obligation to protect that speech. When it comes to the right of unfettered discourse we should not, we cannot, accept dissent-quashing tyranny from any side of the political spectrum.”
To read Reidy’s complete speech, click here.