The 2017 PEN Center USA Literary Awards Festival event took on even greater import as authors, journalists and screenwriters gathered to honor their own in a program at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Everyone attending the event noted the current struggle around free speech, as the Trump administration often offers their own version of the truth.
Author, actor and woodworker Nick Offerman hosted the proceedings with humor and respect. Offerman noted, “This organization is all about using the written word to make sure we retain our First Amendment rights, which is the beautiful thing about this country. I’m certainly going to take advantage of that right with some of the jokes I’ve written.” Onstage, Offerman reminded guests, “In America, it is our right to say things like ‘The President of the United States is an absurd buffoon.’”
He continued: “And that President Trump is a cartoon slug made of Cheeto dust or you think he’s a sentient but rotting orange rind stapled to the inside of a Klan robe, the PEN Center will fight for your ability to say so.”
Author and activist Janet Mock received the Award of Honor. Mock commented, “It’s a great affirmation and I’m glad to be here in this political climate, where so much about the truth is being challenged.”
New York Times reporters Katie Benner, Emily Steel, Michael Schmidt, Jodi Kantor, and Megan Twohey received the Freedom to Write Award for their bombshell investigative journalism exposing sexual harassment in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. In the TV and movie categories, Thomas Schnauz received the Teleplay award for his “Better Call Saul” episode “Expenses.” Vanessa Taylor and Guillermo del Toro received the Screenplay award for their “The Shape of Water” script, which the PEN Center judges noted, “is a plea for tolerance for all outcasts: gays, blacks, the poor, the handicapped and even the non-human. It’s an utterly unique modern-day fairy tale rooted in the problems of real life, the moral being what the world needs now is empathy.”
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to “The Handmaid’s Tale” author Margaret Atwood, saying, “When Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic a hundred years ago, she said ‘No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.’ And those words ring just as true today and they’re the heart of everything this next honoree writes, says and does.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” depicts a bleak world where women are treated as property, sexual assault is treated as part of life, and reproductive rights and free speech are part of the past.
Atwood accepted the award, thanking PEN Center for their tireless efforts defending artists all over the world and leaving guests with this thought, “What is the world we live in? What is the world we want to live in?”