J.K. Rowling will receive PEN free speech prize

The Harry Potter author will be presented the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service award May 16 at the literary and human rights group's annual gala in New York.

Dan Hallman/Invision/AP
In this Oct. 16, 2012, file photo 'Harry Potter' author J.K. Rowling poses for a photo at an appearance at The David H. Koch Theater in New York. Rowling will be given the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award.

For her work as a “fierce opponent of censorship” and an “advocate for women’s and girls’ rights," PEN America is awarding J.K. Rowling its prestigious free speech award.

The Harry Potter author will be presented the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service award May 16 at the literary and human rights group's annual gala in New York.

Ms. Rowling was chosen for her work advocating freedom of expression, as well as for her two charitable foundations: Volant, which works to alleviate poverty and social deprivation, especially among women and children, and Lumos, which helps institutionalized children return to family life.

"I'm deeply honored to receive this award and humbled that my work has been recognized as having moral value by an organization I so admire," Rowling told The Associated Press.

“I’ve long been a supporter of PEN, which does invaluable work on behalf of imprisoned writers and in defense of freedom of speech,” she added.

Rowling is known for using Twitter to stand up for equal rights and empowerment, reported Sarah Caspari in The Christian Science Monitor. Women's rights and "gay rights advocacy [have] been a common theme on her social media feed."

In fact, Rowling herself is a frequent target of censorship. She was named the most challenged author of the 21st century by the American Library Association in 2006. Her books, which feature a child wizard, are sometimes accused of promoting witchcraft and the occult.

Rowling is a “frequent object of censorship”, and has “emerged as a vocal proponent of free expression and access to literature and ideas for children, as well as incarcerated people, the learning-disabled, and women and girls worldwide," PEN American President Andrew Solomon said in a statement.

"Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humor, and a love of reading, along the way revealing moral choices that help us better understand ourselves," Mr. Solomon added. “Through their experiences with Rowling both on and off the page, countless children have learned not only the power of speaking their own minds, but also the critical importance of hearing others. A gifted storyteller, fierce opponent of censorship, advocate for women’s and girls’ rights, and staunch defender of access to education, Rowling uses all of the tools at her disposal to create a better and more just world for our children.”

This year, PEN is also honoring Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, who last year joined an informal pledge to combat censorship of translated books in China.

Previous winners include Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Tom Stoppard. Last year, several authors withdrew from the gala and more than 150 signed an open letter of protest after PEN gave French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award.

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