|Columbus Avenue at 77th Street. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.|
|May 3, 2012. Beautiful sunny day in New York, yesterday. Temperature at a perfect seven-oh.
The day. Over at La Grenouille Francie Whittenburg hosted her annual birthday luncheon for her friend Amy Fine Collins. Besides the stellar guestlist of Amy’s nearest and dearest, Peter Duchin himself provided the only in New York musical background.
Mr. Gopnik has a piece in this week’s New Yorker, coincidentally. It’s in the Talk of the Town and it’s something we know very little about Francois Hollande who some people think may be the next President of France. He also has a very French private life. Or rather, what Americans perceive as very “French.” I’ll let you read it and see. He’s also the conservative in the crowd, so to speak. French-speak, that is.
Last night down at Alison18 on 15 West 18th Street, Susan Magrino was celebrating the 20th anniversary of her public relations business.
When I first came back to New York from Los Angeles, Susan had just started on her own and she was well known in the business as the public relations for Martha Stewart who was number one in the public recognition department. Since then she’s taken on numerous high end/luxury clients nationally and internationally.
|Susan Magrino and Martha Stewart at last year's Central Park Conservancy Women's Committee 29th Annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon. Coincidentally, this year's luncheon is taking place today.|
|She’s indefatigable (you’d have to be to work with Martha) and she’s always “up” and she’s always helpful, and so are all of those at her agency whom I’ve dealt with. PR is a tough business although one of the most glamorous in the city. A lot of young people new to New York aspire to work in public relations. It’s tough, and demanding. The pay-off is that you really get to know the city and how it works. Working with Susan Magrino is one of the great training grounds for these people.
There were two emcees: Maurice DuBois, and Meredith Vieira. During the cocktail hour, the multi-talented Ace Greenberg and his Merry Magicians kept amazing the doubting Thomases. And during dinner the amazing Keno Brothers, Leigh and Leslie, conducted an auction for the cause.
I was up at the American Museum of Natural History for the 2012 PEN Literary Gala. This is one of the snazzier annual literary events in the city. It’s black tie and the tables are hosted by a stellar roster of literary names and associations.
Last night’s included: Margaret Atwood, Ken Auletta, Christopher Buckley, Alan Furst, Jodi Kantor, David Henry Hwang, Robert K. Massie, E. L. Doctorow, Amanda Foreman, Robert Caro, Gay Talese, Francine Prose, Walter Mosley, Edmund Whitem Kiran Desai, Ron Chernow, Roz Chast, Hendrik Hertzberg, Roger Rosenblatt, Judith Thurman, Calvin Trillin, Sylvia Nasar, Peter Carey, Peter Godwin, Amitav Ghosh, Chad Harbach, Elizabeth Hawes, Jeffrey Eugenides, K. Anthony Appiah, Isabel Wilkerson, Robert Pinsky, Brian Selznick, Gay Shteeyngart, Deborah Treisman, Beth Gutcheon, Jhumpa Lahiri.
This is PEN’s 90th year in existence. It is the world’s oldest ongoing human rights organization. Its mission is “to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship.” One of its main activities is securing the safety and liberty of imprisoned and persecuted writers.
PEN American Center defends freedom of expression and fights censorship in the US and abroad. It sponsors public programs and forums on critical challenges facing this country and the world. It also develops the writing skills and literary appreciation of talented New York City public high school students. PEN publishes PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers as well as providing grants to writers facing medial and financial emergencies.
The focus of these gala events are on the business of freeing jailed, oppressed writers and journalists around the world. They take the High Road. Courage and integrity is their approach to gaining freedom for those writers imprisoned for their writings and their opinions.
Why are these writers imprisoned? Because the governing parties wherever these journalists and writers live and work, “don’t like” what these writers write. Differences of opinion are annoying to those who hold all the power and prefer its daily delusions to the historical overview of man’s ways and the history of the future of political oppression.
|The crowd at cocktail hour of the PEN Gala in the Roosevelt Rotunda.|
|Shirley Lord Rosenthal, Peter Heywood, Deborah Needleman of the WSJ Weekend, and Jolie Hunt.|
|Entering the famous Milstein Hall of Ocean Life where the PEN dinner was held last night.|
|Ashley Goodale Muse and Warren Hoge conversing before taking their seats at table.|
|Sarah Simms Rosenthal.||Annette Tapert, who was an honorary chair along with Tina Brown and Toni Goodale.|
|Catherine Preston and Cecile David-Weill who writes Letters From New York for Le Point, and whose novel The Pretenders (Les Pretendents) will be published this year in English.|
|Last night’s master of ceremonies was Charlayne Hunter-Gault, journalist and author very popular in America for her years of on-camera reporting for the McNeil-Lehrer hour on PBS, Ms. Hunter-Gault now divides her time between Johannesburg and Martha’s Vineyard. She’s very active in promoting the highest ethical standards and business practices as well as quality journalism on the African Continent. It was interesting hearing that famous voice again but now with a new identity – the private self now public.
She introduced Tony Kushner the playwright who was to introduce Edward Albee. In her introduction she mistakenly introduced Kushner by the name David, a journalist who has an article in this week’s New Yorker about hackers, which she had read on her iPad the morning before. Quel horreur! Mr. Kushner was not impressed by the mistake and let it be known at the opening of his remarks.
|Peter Godwin, President of PEN.||Charlayne Hunter-Gault introducing Tony Kushner.|
|Mr. Kushner is a natural heir in reputation to Mr. Albee. Although Mr. Albee is not verbose. Nevertheless, Kushner loves words and sentences and, in his way, takes you on an adventurous ride. Up down, bumpy, smooth, highs, lows, thoughtful, and deftly superficial – and all directly or circuitously about Albee. As told by Kushner.
It was a long introduction for a man who is one of the most famous American writers living today. Mr. Kushner was enjoying being at the wheel of this ride he was taking us on (introducing Mr. Albee).
Finally someone from the audience yelled out, “it’s too long Tony.” The audience laughed, relieved, and Tony heard it but remained committed to his point. (He was almost finished.) It was at once amusing, clever, insightful albeit subtly, and otherwise it was “get the hook!” as they used to say in the days of vaudeville.
|Tony Kushner introducing Edward Albee, who was honored to be chosen by an organization that he honors.|
|Mr Albee told us how he became a playwright (a process of elimination: first a poet, then a novelist, then a playwright – which, unlike the first two, took hold on his consciousness). He told us that he has been involved with PEN for the past fifty years. Because they work to protect freedom of expression and therefore writers.
The subject “freedom of expression” has a nice sound to it. Most would agree publicly that it is a good thing, wonderful, notable, the American way, etc. However, when the reins of power are in the hands of those running things politically, when the reins become the “reigns,” the bloom is off the rose. Men and women writing things that are in opposition or disagreement are soon labeled dissidents and “dangerous” to society. The trouble begins in the corridors of their power. The so-called leadership.
Of the past 37 writers and journalists whom PEN has worked to free from prison, 33 have been released. PEN and its work and its members working was responsible for that.
|Ragip Zarakolu, Turkish publisher who has been jailed for publishing material objectionable to the Powers that Be in his country. He has been freed now, but will go to trial.|
|There was the presentation of the 2012 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award. This year it went to Ragip Zarakolu, a Turkish publisher who was jailed for publishing material that the Power That Be found unacceptable. Things that go bump in the night, probably. Mr. Zarakolu’s wife was also in jail although she was freed. Mr. Zarakolu is now out of jail but must stand trial. His crime: freedom of expression. Currently 1000 writers and journalists are either currently detained or on trial in Turkey.
Every year Barbara Goldsmith presents her Freedom to Write award. The subject was an Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega who annoys the Ethiopian powers that be, especially its president. Eskinder doesn’t believe that the current government is democratic although they claim to be. The present ruling party got 99.4 percent of the vote in the last election. That says it all although reporters who actually say it, are jailed. Their crime: freedom of expression.
|The 2012 Jeri Laber Award being presented to Zarakolu who could not leave Turkey to attend.||Zarakolu's son and daughter reading their father's message of thanks.|
|Barbara Goldsmith speaking of her Freedom to Write Award being given to Eskinder Nega of Ethiopia.||Nega's wife Serkalem Fasil accepting the award on behalf of her husband, who is still jailed and accused of being a terrorist by the government for writing about the political corruption in his country.|
|Mr. Nega is still in jail. His wife, Serkalem Fasil – who was also jailed while she was pregnant with their son. The couple had been arrested for “treason” in 2005, In 2007 they were acquitted but denied a license to practice journalism.
Nega continued to write for a US News based EthioMedia and a now banned monthly called Change. He is now labeled a “terrorist” in Ethiopia, accused of receiving weapons and explosives from neighboring Eritrea in order to carry out terrorist attacks in that country. He is currently being held in Maekelawi Prison near Addis Ababa.
Nega’s wife was at the dinner last night. Having just arrived several hours before after a 17-hour flight from Addis Ababa. PEN will continue to prevail.
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