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PEN America honors J.K. Rowling with free speech award

Author J.K. Rowling will receive the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award.

Associated Press photo

Author J.K. Rowling will receive the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award.



Forget it, Death Eaters. Don't try any silencing charms on J.K. Rowling.

The hugely bestselling author of the Harry Potter books, a longtime advocate against censorship and crusader for other worthy causes, has been named one of this year's recipients of the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Rowling said, "I'm deeply honored to receive this award and humbled that my work has been recognized as having moral value by an organization I so admire. I've long been a supporter of PEN, which does invaluable work on behalf of imprisoned writers and in defense of freedom of speech."

PEN America, a writer-driven free expression advocacy organization, said in a release that it 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." Previous winners include Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie.

Rowling herself is no stranger to being the target of censorship efforts. Her Harry Potter series has sold more than 450 million copies, and her non-Potter novels, The Casual Vacancy and three mysteries about PIs Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott (written under the pen name Robert Galbraith), have sold briskly as well.

But the Potter series has also aroused plenty of controversy, including many attempts to remove it from schools and libraries. Its seven volumes were named the "most challenged books of the 21st century" by the American Library Association.

From the freedom-fighting wizard kids she created in the books to her own tart Twitter posts (she has 6.5 million followers there), Rowling has long emphasized the importance of every individual's right to expression.

As PEN AMerica president and author Andrew Solomon put it in the release, "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 more just world for our children."

The award also honors Rowling for her charitable trust, Volant, which supports causes that alleviate social exclusion, and Lumos, her nonprofit organization that works to help institutionalized children around the world regain their right to a family life.

The other recipient of the PEN/Allen award is Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Books. As an editor, Pietsch has worked with, among others, David Foster Wallace, James Patterson and Donna Tartt. In 2015, Pietsch led a PEN initiative to oppose official censorship in China; this year, Hachette published Charlie Hebdo editor Charb's posthumous anticensorship work, Open Letter.

The awards will be presented, along with a slew of other PEN awards, at the organization's annual Literary Gala on May 16 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

[Last modified: Monday, January 25, 2016 5:07pm]


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