(New York, NY) — The free expression and literary organization PEN America today announced Marie Yovanovitch will receive its 2020 PEN/Benenson Courage Award, and that its 2020 gala and awards ceremony will take place as a fully virtual, global event for Members and supporters on December 8.

A career foreign service officer and three-time ambassador, Yovanovitch served the U.S. with distinction throughout her tenure but was the target of a White House smear campaign that led to her abrupt dismissal as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in 2019. Though under intense pressure from a vindictive White House, Yovanovitch publicly testified to expose the corrupt machinations of Ukrainian officials and those at the highest levels of the U.S. government seeking her ouster.

“At a time when, for government officials, standing on principle can spell an end to a professional career, Ambassador Yovanovitch did not flinch or falter,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “The Trump White House uses attacks and reprisals against its critics as a preferred policy tool. Masha sacrificed her career to stand up to such retaliation and spoke out even when it meant ending her remarkably distinguished career in public service. Today, she carries forward the spirit of that work, continuing to defend free expression in the U.S. and abroad. She is a powerful exemplar of the kind of courage this award is meant to honor.”

Yovanovitch will receive the award at the 2020 PEN America Literary Gala, this year being held virtually on December 8 and, for the first time, will be streamed to supporters around the world. As the country continues to struggle with the pandemic, PEN America is also announcing today that the all-virtual gala will include performances, readings, and the awarding of multiple PEN America honors.

“For the first time in PEN America’s history, Members from across the country will be able to join our historic gala,” said PEN America President Jennifer Egan. “While there’s no substitute for celebrating together in person, a breadth of national guests is thrilling compensation.  And what hasn’t changed are the extraordinariness of our honorees and the urgency of our mission.”

Previously announced 2020 honorees include the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Xu Zhiyong, a Chinese writer and dissident currently detained in China; the PEN America Corporate Honoree Frank A. Bennack, Jr., executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst; and the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award honoree Patti Smith, who will perform as part of the virtual gathering.

Prior Courage Award honorees include Anita Hill; student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Cameron Kaskey, Samantha Fuentes, and Zion Kelly; the Women’s March; Flint water whistleblowers Lee-Anne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha; and the publication Charlie Hebdo. PEN America will continue to name honorees for the December event this fall.