NEW YORKAcclaimed French-Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou will present the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo at the annual PEN Literary Gala in New York on May 5, PEN American Center announced today.

Born in the Republic of the Congo, Mabanckou is one of France’s foremost writers. The Memoirs of a Porcupine author is the recipient of the Prix Renaudot, a prestigious literary award, the Grand Prix litteraire d’Afrique noire, and a Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration. Most recently, he was a finalist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. He is also a professor of French Literature at the University of California–Los Angeles.

PEN’s award to Hebdo has been the subject of controversy over the past week, with six writers publicly withdrawing from their roles at the gala to distance themselves from the award and nearly 140 more joining them in a letter of public protest.  The controversy prompted an outpouring of support from dozens of other writers and journalists, including Mabanckou, who endorsed the award to honor the magazine’s rejection of “the efforts by a small minority of radical extremists to place broad categories of speech off limits,” even in the face of extreme violence.

In an op-ed for the Paris news magazine  L’Express earlier this week, Mabanckou said, “It is not about this American penchant for hegemony, but rather an inclination towards the preeminence of that upon which we base our humanism, and which should prevail at all times and in all places: thought in all its freedom and freedom in all thought.”


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck.


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