Earlier this week, six authors — Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, and Taiye Selasi — announced their withdrawal as literary hosts of this year’s PEN America gala, over the group’s acknowledgment of Charlie Hebdo with its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award. Responding to what Kushner referred to as the magazine’s “cultural intolerance,” the writers met with quick condemnation from both PEN itself and one of its loudest spokesmen, Salman Rushdie.
So, who’s right? Is the Charlie Hebdo staff’s martyrdom enough to justify honoring them? Or should an award like this be reserved for work that PEN and its constituency actually endorse? Flavorwire Editor-at-Large Sarah Seltzer and Literary Editor Jonathon Sturgeon found themselves on the opposite sides of these questions. Below, each argues their point of view.