The evening was hosted by the actress and rapper Awkwafina, who was just one among many Hollywood mainstays to attend. Along with Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, actress Jodie Foster introduced Henry Louis Gates Jr., who received the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award, and Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced Walt Disney Company executive chairman Robert Iger, who was the night's Corporate Honoree. Michael C. Hall even brought his band.
Along with Gates and Iger, honorees at the event included the imprisoned Iranian writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi, who received the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, and public health workers Mimi Khin Hall and Gail Newel, who received the PEN/Benenson Courage Award. Literary world attendees included such figures as longtime editor books Nan Talese and her husband, author and journalist Gay Talese, who are mainstays at the event, and New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul, accompanied by Times executive editor Dean Baquet. Also in attendance were authors Candace Bushnell, Min Jin Lee, Jodi Picoult, and Claudia Rankine, and authors and PEN presidents past and present Andrew Solomon, Jennifer Egan, and Ayad Akhtar.
The event mostly went smoothly, but there were some bumps. While the gala was well-attended by guests, press attendees were few and far between, with most organizations seemingly opting to cover the event via its livestream (which can be watched below). And for the length of Iger's acceptance speech, one attendee held up a sign demanding that Disney pay its writers, as the company has, by and large, yet to meet author demands that it pay outstanding royalties—an excellent example of the free expression PEN America stands for, albeit perhaps uncomfortable for its corporate honoree.
Still, most guests seemed thrilled to be out in each other's company again, with an after-party held outside a local bar lasting long enough that it had to be moved inside to comply with neighborhood sound ordinances. Gala committee co-chair and Penguin Random House Global CEO Markus Dohle, in particular, was clearly overjoyed at the return to black tie. "It's good to be back!" he beamed.