The long-awaited PEN America Gala was held Tuesday night, where French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was given an award for its courage after the attack at its offices earlier this year.
Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo‘s editor-in-chief, accepted the divisive award, which more than 145 writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Junot Diaz, Francine Prose, and Lorrie Moore, signed a letter protesting. Biard, The Guardian reports, said that the magazine’s shocking (and sometimes offensive) cartoons help fight extremism, since extremists generally want to limit free speech. “Fear is the most powerful weapon they have,” he said. “Being here tonight we contribute to disarming them.”
Andrew Solomon, PEN president, defended the prize at the gala as well. “Tonight’s award reflects [Charlie Hebdo‘s] refusal to accept the curtailment of speech through violence,” Solomon said. “We defend free speech above its content. Muteness is more toxic than speech. Silence equals death.”
Throughout the evening, Charlie Hebdo received standing ovations and “frequent interruptions of applause,” The Guardian reports. But given the rift this award caused in the literary community—one which Salman Rushdie predicted would end many long-standing friendships—the conversation is likely far from over.