Extraordinary people

The Guardian tells us about the people replacing the boycotters at the PEN gala this evening.

Now award-winning fantasy novelist Gaiman, acclaimed cartoonist Bechdel, Maus creator Spiegelman, Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi and American author and journalist George Packer have been named as new hosts at the event, which PEN confirmed would have heightened security. French-Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou, meanwhile, will present the award to Jean-Baptiste Thoret, the Charlie Hebdo member of staff who arrived late to work on 7 January, missing the attack that killed 12 people.

Mabanckou told the Guardian he had decided to present the award because “I’m a big reader of Charlie Hebdo, because I know that it’s not a racist magazine. I decided to do it in memory of all journalists and cartoonists who die because they have the courage to pursue their work. Finally, I decided to do it because among the members of Charlie Hebdo who were massacred in January 2015 was a friend of mine, the economist and journalist Bernard Maris, who was an extraordinary man.”

From what I’ve been able to gather over the last four months, they were all pretty extraordinary.

Gaiman tweeted:I’ll be hosting a table at the PEN event because it’s important.” He told the Associated Press in an email: “I was honoured to be invited to host a table. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are getting an award for courage: They continued putting out their magazine after the offices were firebombed, and the survivors have continued following the murders.”

“They died for their beliefs. The award is for courage that transcends our like or dislike of them,” Nafisi tweeted this weekend. She also wrote: “PEN award to CH is recognition of the writers’ & artists’ rights to ‘disturb the peace,’ regardless of the price”.

If writers and artists don’t disturb the peace, who will? I’m serious. Other people have other jobs to do, they don’t have time to disturb the peace, their bosses don’t want them to disturb the peace.

Other writers including Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Simon Schama, Richard Ford and Sara Paretsky have also offered their support to PEN. The novelist Salman Rushdie, meanwhile, has been a particularly outspoken supporter of PEN’s decision to honour Charlie Hebdo, writing in a letter to the free speech organisation that by withdrawing, the six authors had “made themselves the fellow travellers” of “fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence”.

And who can dispute him?


  1. says

    I’m writing up my report of the panel discussion (probably won’t be able to post until tomorrow – I had to get up at 3 AM and spent most of the day traveling).

    But I’ll note now that none of the protesters were on the panel. Before the discussion began, the moderator read out a statement from them declining invitations to participate, apparently as a group. I didn’t get it all down because I’m not a stenographer and, well, 3 AM, but it basically claimed that the discussion panel should be about people getting to learn what Charlie Hebdo is about (which they, clearly, know already) and so wasn’t a place for opponents. It was…I’ll call it disappointing.

    The forum was quite good.

  2. Anne Fenwick says

    Alain Mabanckou is actually my favorite author! I can’t recommend Memoirs of a Porcupine enough. It’s a little fable about the nature of evil and responsibility. You might find it especially interesting, Ophelia, since you’ve sometimes written about witchcraft belief in Africa. One of my ambitions is to meet Mabanckou and ask him what he make of all that.

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