New York, NY, May 1, 2007—PEN American Center, the largest center of the international literary organization dedicated to defending freedom of expression around the globe, awarded Cuban writer and independent journalist Normando Hernández González the 2007 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards last night in a ceremony in New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Forty-two writers and journalists have received the award since it was established in 1987.

Mr. Hernández, who was arrested in March 2003 along with 74 other journalists and activists considered to be dissidents by the Cuban government, was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment under Article 91 of the Cuban Criminal Code. His mother, Blanca González, was present to receive the award on his behalf. Overwhelmed with emotion, she spoke in Spanish to Gala attendees before a translator read the following statement, which Mr. Hernández had dictated from prison last week:

The encouragement that I receive today serves to recognize the work of the independent Cuban writers and journalists, especially those who languish between walls of terror for exercising a right as noble as the right to write. I dedicate this Freedom to Write Award to all of them, my brothers in the cause, known as the 75, to those who withstand the torture of being locked up in Cuban prisons for their patriotism.

The award was presented at PEN American Center’s annual Gala, a dinner that brings together many of America’s leading writers to attract national and international attention to PEN’s work, and to domestic and international threats to Freedom of Expression. Speakers included Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press, Gala Chair Tina Brown and PEN president Francince Prose. Paul Auster, E.L. Doctorow, K. Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Adam Gopnik, Rick Moody, Salman Rushdie, and more than 50 other prominent American authors were joined by major international literary figures including Kiran Desai, David Grossman, and Ma Jian, some of the 85 international writers gathered in New York this past week for the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival.

PEN also presented the 2007 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award to the Independent Iranian publishing community, after the original Award candidate, a prominent independent book publisher in Iran, felt compelled to decline the prize for fear of government reprisal.

After the ceremony, PEN Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems emphasized that the evening’s awards marked the beginning, and not the end, of PEN’s advocacy on behalf of their recipients. “These awards serve an important purpose,” Siems said. “They help focus national and international press attention on people and on issues that PEN is working on day in and day out. In the case of Normando Hernández González, the award is a statement of grave concern for his health and a declaration that we believe he should be immediately freed. At the same time, PEN has been calling for the release of all who have been jailed in Cuba in violation of their universally guaranteed rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. We will continue the press for a free and open press in Cuba, using this award to amplify PEN’s concerns in the U.S. and around the world.”

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105