Neil Gaiman, other authors join PEN in honoring Charlie Hebdo; protest grows

Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel will replace protesting authors

The PEN American Center has announced that Neil Gaiman and five other authors will replace the six who withdrew from the organization's annual gala in protest of its Freedom of Expression Courage Award being given to the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Associated Press reported.

Along with Gaiman, Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, George Packer, Azar Mafisi and Alain Mabanckou have agreed to be "table hosts" for the event, the AP said. They replace the six writers who withdrew as hosts last month: Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose and Taiye Selasi.

The original six writers pulled out of the event in protest of what Kushner called Charlie Hebdo's "cultural intolerance." The magazine regularly publishes cartoons satirizing religion and politics, and has depicted the prophet Muhammad in its illustrations, which many Muslims believe to be sacrilegious. The publication's offices were attacked by gunmen in January; 12 people, most of them Charlie Hebdo employees, were killed.

Gaiman told the AP that he was "honored" to take part in the gala. "The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are getting an award for courage," he wrote. "They continued putting out their magazine after the offices were firebombed [in 2011], and the survivors have continued following the murders."

The number of authors objecting to the award has grown substantially in the last several days. According to the Intercept, an online publication, more than 200 writers have signed a letter accusing PEN of "valorizing selectively offensive material," and arguing that Charlie Hebdo's content "violates the acceptable."

Intercept's reprint of the letter reads in part: "It is ... particularly disheartening to see that PEN America has chosen to honor the work and mission of Charlie Hebdo above those who not only exemplify the principles of free expression, but whose courage, even when provocative or discomfiting, has also been fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity."

In addition to the original six protesting writers, the letter has also been signed by authors such as Eric Bogosian, Joyce Carol Oates, Eve Ensler and Keith Gessen.

Gessen's sister, author Masha Gessen, is a table host at the gala, the AP noted. Last week, she wrote an opinion article for Slate arguing that Charlie Hebdo deserves the PEN award. "We, the writers who make up PEN, can’t do much to protect our colleagues against murderous rage, but we can show that we are paying attention, by giving them an award for the courage that they so demonstrate every day," she wrote.

Prose made the counter-argument. In an essay written for the Guardian, the novelist wrote: "As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award. ... I don't feel that [Charlie Hebdo's] work has the importance -- the necessity -- that would deserve such an honor."

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