On The Books: Salman Rushdie and Pussy Riot speak at the PEN American Literary Gala

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Image Credit: Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images

The PEN American Center hosted its annual literary gala last night, and the list of speakers celebrating freedom of expression included Salman Rushdie, two members of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot, and Toni Morrison. Jewher Ulham accepted the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on behalf of her father, Ilham Tohti, a scholar arrested in January and charged with inciting separation among China’s ethnic Uighurs. Words are “all he has ever had at his disposal and all that he has ever needed. And this is what China finds so threatening,” she said in her acceptance speech. Other awards went to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who was given the inaugural Digital Freedom Award and to Salman Rushdie who won the PEN’s Literary Service Award. [Yahoo]

The Bookends theme this week is “Susan Sontag is the Worst” — no, sorry, it’s “Do critics make good novelists?” But both writers end up piling on Sontag as the primary example of critics who make insufferable novelists. Daniel Mendelsohn argues that Sontag’s “very erudition and didactic élan can be impediments to the natural flow of a story and the persuasive delineation of character that distinguish good fiction.” That’s a backhanded compliment if I’ve ever heard one. Leslie Jamison is more sympathetic, but admits that people enjoy picking apart the ways in which Sontag’s fiction fails to match her critical brilliance. [New York Times]

The O. Henry Prize winners were announced today. Honorees for this year’s best short fiction include Louise Erdrich, who won the 2012 National Book Award, newcomer Chinelo Okparanta, and 85-year-old William Trevor. The complete list of 20 stories will be published as a book, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014, in September. [LA Times]

Philly bookstore Giovanni’s Room is closing. It’s always a sad day to see an indie bookstore bite the dust, but it’s a particularly sombre occasion because Giovanni’s is one of the oldest and largest lesbian, gay, and feminist bookstores in the nation. Victoria A. Brownworth at Slate writes that it’s like losing a dear friend. “Oh sure—we can still buy LGBTQ and feminist books,” she says. “Amazon is just a mouse-click or swipe of the iPad away…But we don’t meet our authors at Amazon or introduce them to others there. We can click on the ‘Look Inside!’ option for the books that have them, but that isn’t the same as perusing the shelves or holding our first lesbian or gay book in our hands, or reading a queer-friendly book to our children in the room upstairs where the kids books are.” RIP Giovanni’s Room. [Slate]

Romance publisher Mills & Boon claims that it has developed a new interactive digital storytelling format that will turn the world of fiction on its head. They’ve created a video game-type of world, where you go to a digital hotel and follow characters around there. Visitors have access to the characters’ Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts and the characters will actually interact with them via these interfaces. Sounds like a dangerous game of fictional chat roulette… [Guardian]


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