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Writers spurn PEN over Charlie Hebdo award

Teju Cole

The Wire’s David Simon spoke up on his website about events in Baltimore, where the National Guard was called out and a curfew declared after anger surged in response to yet another death in police custody (Freddie Gray’s funeral took place yesterday). Ta-Nehisi Coates saw the situation very differently: “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse.

Six writers—Peter Carey, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Francine Prose, and Taiye Selasi—have withdrawn from PEN’s annual gala in protest at the organization’s decision to give its Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French paper Charlie Hebdo. “A hideous crime was committed,” Peter Carey said, “but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” Salman Rushdie took umbrage, calling the six “fellow travellers” of "fanatical Islam": “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.” Teju Cole, whose response at the time of the Paris attacks was among the most thoughtful, told the Intercept: “I would rather honor Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, who have also paid steeply for their courage, but whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s. I would like an acknowledgement of the Kenyan students who were murdered for no greater crime than being college students. And, if we are talking about free speech, I would rather PEN shed more light on the awful effects of governmental spying in the US, and the general issue of surveillance.

This week in straight white men: The Awl advises on what to do if you detest the male stranglehold on publishing and yet are a man with something you’re just dying to publish. And from Vox, a helpful account of the latest sally in the “war for the soul of nerd culture”: rigging the Hugo Awards (sci-fi’s Pulitzers), Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, so-called "social justice agitators"... It’s all here, if you want it.

Kobo, the Canadian ebook retailer and maker of ereaders, is becoming a publisher with the upcoming release of Jian Ghomeshi: Secret Life, about the disgraced former CBC host now facing multiple sexual assault charges.

Yet more Knausgaard! He told an interviewer he’s misunderstood: “I’m well known for being very, very serious. Very un-ironic. Very… I mean I have been crying on Norwegian TV. That’s the image of me being that kind of figure, but in my writing I can write things I find very funny, and some people don’t understand that I’m trying to be funny. They just don’t believe that I could be able to make a joke even.

Adam Thirlwell will launch his novel Lurid and Cute tomorrow night; he’ll be talking to Sam Lipsyte at McNally Jackson on Thursday.