(New York, NY) — On December 8, former U.S. President Barack Obama will accept PEN America’s Voice of Influence Award in recognition of how the former president’s writings throughout his career have traversed political, social, and ideological bounds and framed a self-reflective humanism that has marked his influence on public life. Following the award presentation, the president will join author and former PEN America board president Ron Chernow for an intimate conversation on the president’s new memoir A Promised Land, the challenges facing free expression, and how to secure the freedom to write. The award presentation and interview will be part of PEN America’s virtual gala celebration and award ceremony.
“As an organization of writers, we have always seen President Obama not just as a leader, but as one of us: an author. His probing and evocative narratives helped introduce the world to his unique background, and the power of his life experience as a prompt toward a more pluralistic and encompassing society,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “We are thrilled that on the occasion of the publication of A Promised Land, we will have the chance to honor President Obama with this award as part of the virtual edition of the best book party of the year: the PEN America gala. The former president and Ron Chernow will discuss the freedom to write, a liberty that faces unprecedented challenges amid rising authoritarianism that parlays disinformation and distrust to impair the very function of free speech as a catalyst for revealing the truth and driving forward societal progress.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, journalist historian, and biographer Ron Chernow will discuss with President Obama his experience as a writer who went on to hold the highest elected office In America; the importance of truth-telling at a perilous time; global efforts to quash free expression and what can be done; and the path forward for readers and writers worldwide in defending the freedom to read and write. Chernow will present the former president with the PEN America Voice of Influence Award, given last year to groundbreaking director, producer, and activist Ava DuVernay.
“Long before he was a politician, Barack Obama was a spectacular writer. Since he published Dreams from My Father a quarter century ago, America and the world have benefited from the qualities he brought to that memoir: empathy, superb storytelling, and a fount of hope and possibility,” said PEN America president Jennifer Egan. “Now, as we conclude a year of plague and division, his voice is a tonic reminder of the power of language—and narrative—to uplift and transform. We’re overjoyed that the president can join us for this special evening.”
The award presentation and conversation will take place as part of PEN America’s 2020 virtual gala. Additional honorees that evening will include recipients of the PEN/Benenson Courage Award: former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Darnella Frazier, the young woman who recorded the murder of George Floyd; Patti Smith, recipient of the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award; Hearst’s Frank A. Bennack Jr., this year’s Corporate Honoree; and Chinese dissident writer Xu Zhiyong, who will receive in absentia the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. Additional participants include Bono, Emma Thompson, Spike Lee, Madeleine Albright, Soledad O’Brien, Cory Booker, and many more.
The event is free and open to the public, however registration is required. More information including registration and participant information can be found on our website.
Members of the press are requested to contact Stephen Fee, director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos, transcripts, and video clips will be available immediately following the president’s remarks.