Literary organization PEN America has issued a statement on a book launch earlier this week in Los Angeles that was disrupted by protesters.
The organization hosted an author’s event for the launch of writer and comedian Moshe Kasher’s new memoir, Subculture Vulture. Kasher’s book is an account of his upbringing in a deaf and Jewish household, participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, and work in comedy. He was joined in conversation by Mayim Bialik, his close friend and colleague.
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The event was interrupted by protests that eventually halted the program. Security had to remove one protester who refused to leave, PEN said, before the program continued.
Allison Lee, Los Angeles director of PEN America said in a statement that “PEN America is a big tent organization that values, supports, and creates dialogue, including among writers who hold wide-ranging points of view. When it comes to public events, the open exchange of ideas cannot devolve into an environment where only the loudest voices are heard.
“As we have stated in our published principles and reiterated regularly in statements and commentary over the years, when a speaker sparks controversy, those who object and wish to protest must have an opportunity to make their opinions known. But protesters cannot be permitted to impose a heckler’s veto that forecloses the ability of others to be heard. By doing so they impair the free speech rights of the original speaker as well as those who came to listen.”
The protests apparently stemmed from Bialik’s participation. PEN acknowledged that it had what it termed “respectful exchanges with two authors who declined to participate in a separate PEN America event in Los Angeles because of Bialik’s commentary on the Israel/Hamas war and her participation in the upcoming Kasher talk.”
Those email exchanges were obtained and published by LitHub, which also published a statement PEN provided. The authors were identified by the website as National Book Award finalist Angela Flournoy (The Turner House) and O. Henry Prize winner Kathleen Alcott (Emergency, America Was Hard to Find)
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