I’ve only belatedly caught wind of the exchange of communications between PEN America’s Executive Director Suzanne Nossel and novelist Deborah Eisenberg about PEN America’s decision to bestow an award for courage in freedom on expression on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo at its annual literary gala May 6 at the Museum of Natural History. PEN America’s decision was highly controversial and caused a number of prominent writers to distance themselves from the event and from the organization, which in turn brought other writers to the defense. I have felt very uneasy about this particular honoring of Charlie Hebdo myself, for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on. Eisenberg, in her brilliance, nails it.
Much is made these days of exposing snarky exchanges, especially those not meant for public consumption. The exchange between Eisenberg and Nossel (pictured below) doesn’t fall into that category at all. Instead, these two women model thoughtful, respectful, extremely nuanced dialogue on a topic about which they fundamentally disagree. If you’ve ever wondered how to manage that trick, this document is worthy of study. Check it out and let me know what you think.
These letters (and others about the PEN America controversy) were posted on The Intercept, the website co-founded by the journalist Glenn Greenwald, whom Eisenberg correctly cites as a good example of someone who truly exercises courage in service of freedom of expression.