The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)
Hundreds gather for PEN America gala, hosted by Awkwafina
NEW YORK » PEN America held one of New York’s first major indoor literary gatherings since the pandemic began last year, as hundreds met Tuesday night for the organization’s annual gala to honor writers, community servants, political dissidents and such prominent public figures as Walt Disney executive chair Robert A. Iger.
After a virtual ceremony in 2020, attendees met at the gala’s longtime venue — the American Museum of Natural History, under the giant model blue whale. PEN, the literary and human rights organization, required everyone to present proof of vaccination and proof of a negative test within 72 hours of the event. Once inside, they were asked to wear masks when not “actively eating or drinking” for a night that included a cocktail reception and a sit-down dinner.
Infection rates remain high in New York City compared to early summer, although well below the pre-vaccine peaks of last winter and March-april 2020. A November literary tradition, the National Book Awards ceremony, will be held online for a second straight year because of the virus. But PEN President Ayad Akhtar, the author and playwright, called the gala a kind of civic duty. He told the audience that after 18 months of Zoom screens, a live meeting of writers and other artists, and the gradual re-opening of the PEN offices, might inspire others to “move forward.”
“This is part of what we feel we can and must do,” he said.
According to PEN, around 500 people came to the gala, hundreds less than in recent years. But the organization still raised more than $3 million, PEN Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel announced, a record for the event. Attendees included Min Jin Lee, Claudia Rankine and Walter Isaacson among others, a PEN spokesperson said, and a few special presenters.