The PEN/Allen Foundation has named best-selling author J.K. Rowling as this year’s recipient of the Literary Service Award. The award is presented to literary works that, “opposes oppression in any form” and “champions the best of humanity”.
Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling will receive the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award at PEN America’s annual Literary Gala on May 16 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
PEN America, the country’s largest writer-driven free expression advocacy organization, presents the award annually to a critically acclaimed author whose work embodies its mission to oppose repression in any form and to champion the best of humanity. As violence from Mexico to Russia and China to France this year has forced many to consider compromising democratic values in a shortsighted bargain for security, Rowling and other writers—including previous winners Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and the late E.L. Doctorow—have joined PEN in defending freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas.
Since her rise from single mother to literary superstar, J.K. Rowling has used her talents and stature as a writer to fight inequality on both a local and global level. Her charitable trust, Volant, supports causes in the United Kingdom and abroad that alleviate social exclusion, with particular emphasis on women and children. In 2005 she founded Lumos, a nonprofit organization that works to help the eight million children institutionalized around the world regain their right to a family life. Herself the frequent object of censorship in schools and libraries across the globe, as well as online targeting, Rowling has emerged as a vocal proponent of free expression and access to literature and ideas for children, as well as incarcerated people, the learning-disabled, and women and girls worldwide.
“Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humor, and a love of reading, along the way revealing moral choices that help us understand ourselves,” said author Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America. “Through their experiences with Rowling both on and off the page, countless children have learned not only the power of speaking their own minds, but the critical importance of hearing others. A gifted storyteller, fierce opponent of censorship, advocate for women’s and girls’ rights, and staunch defender of access to education, Rowling uses all of the tools at her disposal to create a better and mor
PEN will also honor Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch for his leadership in the fight against censorship by new and traditional actors. Through thirty years as an editor working with David Foster Wallace, James Patterson, Donna Tartt, and others, Pietsch has championed the power of the unrestrained word. In 2015, Pietsch helped galvanize American publishers in a PEN initiative to resist official censorship in China, leading to a pledge by top houses to address unauthorized changes in translations. This year, Hachette published Charlie Hebdo editor Charb’s posthumous anti-censorship work, Open Letter. Pietsch has also contributed vocally to the conversation about publishers’ roles in the changing landscape for writers, publishers, booksellers, and readers.
“As new technologies continually expand the space for creativity and new ideas to find a global audience, repressive forces are increasingly eager to silence those who challenge the status quo,” said PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “Michael knows that writers who dare to see the world clearly are also those who ultimately have the greatest impact. As a leader in the fight against pervasive censorship, he has painstakingly reaffirmed literature as more than a consumer good: as a cultural currency in need of vehement protection.”
In the coming weeks, PEN America will announce the recipients of two additional awards that will be presented at the gala to defenders of free expression on the front lines. The PEN Freedom to Write Award shines the global spotlight on an imprisoned writer persecuted for exercising his or her right to free expression. Previous winners include Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo; Burmese democracy activist Aung Myint; and Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. The PEN/James and Toni C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, presented for the first time in 2015 to French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, will recognize an individual or organization that has dauntlessly challenged those who use violence and oppression to narrow the space for the free exchange of ideas.