PEN America honors artists, activists and dissidents

From an imprisoned Ukranian journalist to a high school activist in Florida, PEN America offered tribute on Monday night to democracy and free expression and cautioned about the dangers faced in the U.S. and abroad.

“Instead of being able focus on menial responsibilities such as school work, my generation has been forced to rapidly mobilize and fight for our future,” Florida teenager Jack Petocz, a prominent opponent of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, said Monday. “If our collective voice couldn’t make a difference, then they wouldn’t be trying so hard to silence it.”

Marking its 100th year, the literary and human rights organization held its annual fundraising dinner gala, as around 650 authors, publishers, editors and others gathered at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Petocz was given the PEN/Benenson Courage Award, author Zadie Smith the literary service award and Audible.com founder Donald Katz the award for being a business visionary. Actor—comedian-commentator Faith Salie hosted.

Ukrainian journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko, as of now serving a six-year sentence in a Russian labor camp for his reporting in Russian-occupied Crimea, was introduced in absentia the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, given to political prisoners. Yesypenko’s better half Kateryna, introduced by actor Michael Douglas, talked on his behalf.

“He believes people deserve to know what’s going, to know what the truth is,” she said, talking in Ukrainian, her words translated by a PEN official. “My husband believes this so deeply he is prepared to risk his life. I share his commitment.”

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