New table hosts for PEN America

Also in pleasanter news: from the New York Times:

Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel are among the writers who have agreed to be table hosts at next week’s PEN American Center gala after six authors withdrew in protest of an award being given to the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

So, that will do. That’s not too shabby. Alison Bechdel has a hit musical on Broadway at this moment.

The literary and human rights organization told The Associated Press this weekend that the other new hosts are George Packer, Azar Mafisi and Alain Mabanckou, a Congolese-born French author who will present the award to Hebdo’s editor in chief Gerard Biard and critic and essayist Jean-Baptiste Thore. PEN is giving the magazine a Freedom of Expression Courage award, a decision that has been fiercely defended and criticized.

That’s Nafisi, if they mean the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, as I imagine they do. But anyway – cool beans. I would be ecstatic to sit at any one of those tables.

“I was honored to be invited to host a table,” Gaiman wrote in an email Sunday to The Associated Press. “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.”

Stout fella.

The literary world has been in a civil war of words since PEN announced last week that Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose and four other table hosts pulled out from the gala, citing what they say are the offensive cartoons of Muslims in Charlie Hebdo. A stream of tweets, letters, Facebook postings and opinion pieces has divided old friends such as former PEN presidents Prose and Salman Rushdie, a leading backer of the honor, and even set siblings on opposite sides.

I’ve been reading Joseph Anton again because of all this, and I keep finding tragic-ironic appearances by Peter Carey and Michael Ondaatje and the like. It’s sad.

Gaiman, in his email to the AP, said he was puzzled that “several otherwise well-meaning writers have failed to grasp that you do not have to like what is said to support people’s right to say it.”

No, you don’t, but you probably do have to like or at least respect what is said to be happy about an award for it. Being happy about an award is a step or two (or several) beyond supporting people’s right. I agree with the protesting writers about that much. I just think they’re dead wrong about not liking or at least respecting what is said. They are objecting from the left, not from the right, and that’s just a complete mistake. And with so many people explaining the mistake to them, they ought to be able to grasp it.


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