Interesting PEN event

April 29, 2009

I had the pleasure of attending a black tie awards ceremony organized by PEN last night. PEN is a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing literature and defending free expression. They are the oldest international literary and human rights organization. Last night, they gave three awards celebrating the freedom to write, the international freedom to publish and literary service.

The crowd at the event, a combination of writers, critics and other literary intellectuals, was fascinating. I had fantastic conversations on a wide range of topics and was impressed by the number of people who spoke perfect French. I got to compare the lives of historical figures with the biographer sitting next to me. I also discussed the irony of Madame de Stael’s life with her most recent biographer. Madame de Stael would have traded all her accomplishments, her intellect, for good looks! Moreover, after seeking passionate love her entire life, it bored her when she finally found it!

The awards ceremony was a letdown relative to the quality of people in attendance. While I am a fervent supporter of the freedom of speech and deplore the imprisonment of writers around the world, I felt the comparisons between the Tibet and China today and Nazi Germany and concentration camps were a bit farfetched. Moreover, when one of the dissidents complained that 40 writers, thinkers and poets were in Chinese jails today, I thought that 40 out of a population of 1.2 billion did not seem that high. I bet we have over 40 writers, journalists and poets in jail in the US today…

That said, I loved the event and am glad to see the enthusiasm and passion showed by people in book publishing. They are doing their best to survive in extremely difficult times. As an avid book reader, I sure hope they succeed in finding a way to save their industry!

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