Comedian John Oliver to Serve as Master of Ceremonies 

History-Making Author and Journalist Bob Woodward to Receive PEN America Literary Service Award for His 19 Bestselling Books and 47 Years of Journalism at the Washington Post

Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson to Serve as Publisher Honoree for His Outstanding Leadership of the World’s Largest Publisher and Distributor of Children’s Books

PEN America today announced comedian and Last Week Tonight creator and host John Oliver as the host of this year’s PEN America Literary Gala, where New York’s literary, activist, cultural and social life collides in a celebration of free expression. The event will honor Bob Woodward, the peerless investigative journalist who has held the White House accountable for decades through his no-holds-barred books and journalism, with the PEN America Literary Service Award. Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson will be this year’s Publisher Honoree, for his outstanding leadership in bringing millions of children worldwide credible information and inspiring books that help them navigate the world around them. This year’s host and honorees are each distinguished for their commitment to truth, an essential value at the heart of PEN America’s mission to safeguard open discourse and press freedom. The Gala—at which leading authors sit among nearly 1,000 guests as Literary Hosts—takes place Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street, New York City).

As the event approaches, PEN America will announce the 2019 winners of the other prestigious awards presented at the gala: the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award (given in 2018 to Myanmar reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo), honoring an imprisoned writer or artist persecuted for exercising their right to free expression; and the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award (conferred in 2018 to leaders in youth activism against gun violence Samantha Fuentes, Cameron Kasky, and Zion Kelly), recognizing an individual or group that embodies courage in self-expression.

The PEN America Literary Service Award is given each year to a cultural luminary whose efforts help us understand and interpret the human condition in powerful and original ways. Past awardees include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Tom Stoppard, Philip Roth and Margaret Atwood, and this year the award celebrates Bob Woodward for his illustrious and prolific career as an author and journalist.

From his coverage of the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s role in the ensuing cover-up, to, more recently, the “remarkable feat of reporting” (The New Yorker) of his examination of a chaotic presidency in Fear: Trump in the White House, which has sold nearly two million copies, Woodward has pioneered a form of political journalism that has achieved unmatched power in informing the public about the inner workings at the pinnacle of government. Across his 19 national non-fiction bestseller books (13 of which were #1 bestsellers), countless articles and work as an associate editor of The Washington Post, Woodward’s intrepid reporting has moved citizens from across the political spectrum and around the globe to hold their leaders accountable and cast better informed votes.

“Throughout his decades-long career and innumerable political bombshells that he has revealed, Bob Woodward’s scrupulous reporting and meticulous sourcing have set the standard for dogged and objective reporting and gripping storytelling,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “His work has helped fortify American democracy for decades and reminds us of the potency of truth and the essential role of a free and fearless press at a time when these values are under attack in Washington and around the world.” 

The PEN America Literary Gala pays tribute to the role of publishers and writers in bringing great works to a wide audience and using the written word to bridge divides. Last year, Simon and Schuster President and CEO Carolyn Reidy was named the PEN America Publishing Honoree, and PEN America this year turns to publishing powerhouse Richard Robinson as this year’s Publishing Honoree. With Robinson at the helm for more than 40 years, Scholastic has informed the next generation and inspired them to be empathetic, engaged citizens. PEN America celebrates Richard Robinson for his unparalleled leadership of Scholastic. Whether through the high-quality children’s literature the company publishes and distributes around the world, or the classroom magazines which present news and current events in an age-appropriate way to 15 million students each year, Scholastic tirelessly engages children’s intellects, imaginations, and social consciences.

“At a time of sharp polarization and fragmented media consumption habits, Scholastic stands out as a beacon of credible, verified non-fiction and great books that are trusted and treasured by teachers, parents, and students around the world, and across race, ethnicity, and political persuasion,” said PEN America President Jennifer Egan. “Richard Robinson has done a remarkable job of forging Scholastic’s essential role as a lingua franca of American civic and literary education. By providing common ground through unforgettable stories and characters and balanced perspectives, he ratifies the power of the written word to transcend cultural divisions.”

The PEN America Literary Gala is a highlight of the annual New York literary and social calendar that leaves its guests moved and inspired to redouble their efforts in defense of truth, facts, the role of the media, and open dialogue as foundations of democracy. Proceeds of the dinner are crucial to PEN America’s dynamic cultural programming and critical advocacy work.


Tickets to the 2019 PEN Literary Gala will go on sale in March. To inquire about table sponsorship opportunities, please contact Jafreen Uddin at [email protected] or 646.779.4815.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Blake Zidell (Blake Zidell & Associates): 718.643.9052, [email protected]

Anoosh Gasparian (PEN America): [email protected]