What Is The PEN Literary Gala?

On May 16, J.K. Rowling will receive the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award at the PEN Literary Gala. But what is the PEN Literary Gala, and who else will be recognized with a Free Expression Award?

Every year, the PEN American Center honors writers, journalists, and publishers with Free Expression Awards at the PEN Literary Gala. The awards are given to people who show outstanding devotion to freedoms of speech and the press, and who are "fierce opponents of censorship around the globe."

The PEN Literary Gala will recognize Rowling "for the extraordinary inspiration her books have provided to generations of readers and writers globally." As her Harry Potter novels continue to encounter challenges in libraries and schools, "Rowling has emerged as a vocal proponent of free expression and access to literature and ideas for children, as well as incarcerated people, the learning-disabled, and women and girls worldwide."

Playwright Tom Stoppard won the 2015 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award.

Novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji will receive the 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. In February, an Egyptian court sentenced Naji to two years in prison for the sexually explicit content found in his novel, The Use of Life. He is currently still incarcerated.

The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award was previously known as the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Publisher's Weekly reports that "The Edwin Barbey Charitable Fund, an organization co-directed by Village Voice owner Peter Barbey," sponsored this year's award. Azerbaijani radio host Khadija Ismayilova won the award in 2015.

This year's PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award goes to Lee-Anne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who led the charge on exposing the Flint Water Crisis. French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo won last year's award.

PEN America Trustee Michael Pietsch will be the PEN Literary Gala's 2016 Publisher Honoree, "for his leadership in the fight against censorship by both new and traditional actors." Pietsch is the CEO of Hatchette Book Group. He follows 2015 Publisher Honoree Markus Dohle, the CEO of Penguin Random House.

The 2016 PEN Literary Gala will be held on Monday, May 16 at 6:30 P.M. in the American Museum of Natural History.