PEN Literary Awards to the 2016 election: ‘We need fewer walls and more book awards’
Poet Laureate of Brooklyn Tina Chang has a message for politicians: “We need fewer walls and more book awards.”
In a stirring speech delivered at the 2016 PEN Literary Awards ceremony, Chang decried the current political climate’s position on diversity.
“We need less punishment for what women choose to do with their bodies and recognition for what they accomplish with their intellect and will. We need not take back America and instead give abundantly and fairly to the communities that have built this country,” she said.
While Chang didn’t name any specific presidential candidates in her speech, she did clarify to Mashable after the ceremony, “We all knew who I was talking about.”
Chang, who was the host of the evening, called out the presidential race as she announced the winner of the PEN Open Book Award, a prize given every year to an exceptional book length work of literature published by an author of color.
Check out the full speech below:
“My children are Asian American and African American. My brother is Muslim and so is his family that he married into, who are largely from Afghanistan. Much of my extended family is also Latin American. We are like any other American family. When we get together for gatherings, my brother is very quick to turn on the television, and he has to have a Jet’s game on in the background. My children and nephews are playing two hand touch in my living room much to my dismay. We couldn’t be any more typical.
“But taking my background into consideration, we would be most unpopular with certain presidential candidates and I don’t give a hoot. Nobody says “hoot” anymore but I couldn’t say “damn” so I said “hoot.” I imagine that in someone’s concocted world, they would build walls around us, create laws to keep us out of the country and find ways to silence us.
“And I think we need fewer walls and more book awards. We need less punishment for what women choose to do with their bodies and recognition for what they accomplish with their intellect and will. We need not take back America and instead give abundantly and fairly to the communities that have build this country.
“It is due in part to my background that I search for diverse stories and characters of color wherever I go. As I visit bookstores and libraries with my children, one thing becomes pretty apparent, pretty quickly and that is that there are so few books for children of color. And for a child, this is devastating, as they quickly learn to devalue themselves as they do not see a positive semblance of themselves anywhere. As one moves into adulthood and sees the trend continuing, one begins to wonder: who’s at the helm, why aren’t things changing and what force will turn the tide of privilege.
“My hope is that in the not too distance future, our books will reflect the true demographics of America. PEN is a tremendous part of that vision, as it promotes ongoing dialogue about publishing and diversity. As it works for equal representation so that writers of every background feel that they have a rightful place in the American literary landscape.”