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At PEN Gala, Sargent Speaks to the First Amendment

Thursday, April 27, 2017   (0 Comments)
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By John Maher (for Publishers Weekly) --

The 2017 PEN Literary Gala, held on April 26 at the Museum of Natural History in New York, saw the publishing and nonprofit worlds come together in support of free speech. PEN president Andrew Solomon said the fundraiser was PEN's most successful to date, with nearly $2 million raised.

The publisher honoree was Macmillan CEO John Sargent, who spoke about the importance of the First Amendment to a room filled with authors such as Zadie Smith, Neil Gaiman, and Salman Rushdie. "For those of us who have to make significant decisions on First Amendment issues, our choices are, by necessity, personal," Sargent said, adding that the amendment only referred to Congress's obligation to "make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," and that it does not even define what free speech is. "There is little guidance, and the obligation to follow the amendment is only moral—there is no law that binds us."

In his address, Sargent stressed the importance of maintaining freedom of speech in an industry that is built upon its principles—even when the speech needing protection or publication does not align with publishers' personal politics. The argument touched on an issue that has proven divisive in publishing of late, especially surrounding the now-abandoned book deal between alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and Simon & Schuster, but also applies to Macmillan imprint Henry Holt's decision to continue to publish the works of former Fox News anchor Bill O'Reillyafter the network let him go in the wake of numerous sexual harassment allegations....


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