Gala dinner to take place on November 2, 2018, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel

BEVERLY HILLS, CA—PEN America announced today that globally lauded artist Ai Weiwei will receive the Artistic Expression Award at the organization’s 2018 LitFest Gala in Los Angeles. Ai is renowned for making bold aesthetic statements that expose fault lines, unmask hypocrisies, and unleash empathy on a global scale. This honor comes in the wake of the razing last weekend of Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studio, including the destruction of several artworks, purportedly to make way for gentrification. In the fall of 2018, Ai Weiwei will open three major exhibitions in Los Angeles. The 2018 LitFest Gala, which will take place on November 2, 2018, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, will also recognize media and entertainment litigator and PEN America Trustee Marvin Putnam with the 2018 Distinguished Leadership Award for exceptional work in support of PEN America and its mission to defend free expression and celebrate literary excellence.

Now in its 28th year, PEN America’s LitFest Gala is a celebration of free expression and the literary arts. Each year, the event brings together impassioned tributes, conversation, and levity before an esteemed audience of authors, screenwriters, producers, showrunners, executives, philanthropists, actors, and devotees of the written word who share a commitment to the robust defense of creative freedom in Los Angeles and around the world. Proceeds from PEN America’s LitFest Gala support initiatives including: advocacy for writers, journalists, and artists threatened or imprisoned worldwide; landmark research that addresses critical free speech issues; and the advancement of literary excellence and cross-cultural exchanges through hallmark initiatives, including the World Voices Festival of International Literature, PEN America’s Literary Awards, and fellowship and grants programs. Recently honored luminaries and participants include Roxane Gay, Isabel Allende, Jose Antonio Vargas, Margaret Atwood, Janet Mock, Norman Lear, Guillermo del Toro, Amber Tamblyn, Aisha Tyler, Amy Poehler, and Cecile Richards.

“Ai Weiwei’s inventive, iconic, and utterly original lens on contemporary life both within and outside China have bridged the worlds of art and activism, awakening millions to the plight of refugees, government corruption, and human suffering. His dramatic, insistent, and impossible-to-forget films, artworks, and installations have jolted the art world, inspired millions, and stoked fear in the minds of governments alert to the power of creativity to spark social change,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “Ai Weiwei has, for decades, endured the personal price of harassment, intimidation, and constraints on his freedom in his determination to speak out and be a voice for those who cannot. Coming without warning, the demolition of his studio last weekend was a vivid reminder of the arbitrary and unpredictable exercise of power that Ai’s work has consistently exposed and contested. PEN America has been proud to stand with Ai Weiwei in his courageous posture of artistic defiance, and is honored to present him with our Artistic Expression Award this year.”

Michelle Franke, Executive Director of PEN America’s Los Angeles office, said, “As a ​fierce advocate for human rights and an avid reader––one with a guiding belief in the power of words to inspire, educate, and heal––Marvin Putnam found in PEN America a way to channel his manifest passion for free speech and the rights of creative communities into action, which he’s been doing for over a decade with a steadfast dedication​ ​worthy of celebration. It will be an honor to recognize Marvin with the 2018 Distinguished Leadership Award for his many contributions to our organization, especially following the recent unification of PEN America’s New York​ and ​Los Angeles offices. The unification was an opportunity to connect writers and activists coast to coast that he welcomed with his unique ability to bridge differences and forge common purpose.”

From architecture to installations, social media to documentaries, Ai Weiwei uses a wide range of mediums as expressions of new ways for his audiences to examine society and its values. Recent exhibitions include: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors with the Public Art Fund in New York City; Ai Weiwei on Porcelain at the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul; Maybe, Maybe Not at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; and Ai Weiwei. Libero at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. Ai was born in Beijing in 1957 and currently resides and works in Berlin. Ai is the current Einstein Visiting Professor at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) and the 2012 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation. Ai’s first feature-length documentary, Human Flow, premiered at the 74th Venice Film Festival in competition.

Marvin Putnam, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, is a trial lawyer who offers clients an exceptional combination of litigation experience and keen insight into the entertainment industry. He has successfully represented clients ranging from individual authors and producers to leading entertainment companies and investment banks. His accomplishments at trial and appellate courts, both state and federal as well as internationally, have earned Mr. Putnam a reputation as a market-leading entertainment litigator. Mr. Putnam has been recognized by Chambers USA as a leading lawyer in Media & Entertainment Litigation; Variety “Legal Impact Report;” The Hollywood Reporter “Power Lawyers;” and The Daily Journal “Top 100 California Lawyers” and “Top Entertainment Lawyers.” In 2014, he was named one of National Law Journal’s “Winning Trial Lawyers” and Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Century City Bar Association. 

For more information on the PEN America’s 2018 LitFest Gala, please visit


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.


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