PEN America to Honor Patti Smith, Hearst’s Frank Bennack at 2020 PEN America Literary Gala

Ceremony to take place May 19 in New York City

(New York, NY) – PEN America today announced Patti Smith as the recipient of the 2020 PEN/Audible Literary Service Award, to be conferred upon the iconic writer and performer at this year’s PEN America Literary Gala, on May 19.

PEN America is recognizing Smith for her prolific and multifaceted career, across which she has written arrestingly lucid memoirs and poetry; paired vital literary and raw punk sensibilities in her music; and, through it all, demonstrated an unflinching determination to protest injustice and speak truth. PEN America also announced Frank A. Bennack, Jr., Executive Vice Chairman and Former CEO of Hearst, as the Gala’s Corporate Honoree, in recognition of his visionary leadership of the diversified media, information, and services company and steadfast support of PEN America. The Gala—a unique evening gathering that convenes distinguished writers, media titans, human rights activists, publishers, editors, journalists, and philanthropists—takes place at the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street, New York City).

The PEN/Audible Literary Service Award is given each year to a cultural luminary whose work helps us understand and interpret the human condition in powerful and original ways. Past recipients include Bob Woodward, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Margaret Atwood. Smith’s artistry and advocacy—the indelible poetry of her music (for which she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007), the courage of her activism (penning stirring protest songs, performing to galvanize social and environmental causes), and the intimate reflections in her books (including 2010’s National Book Award-winning Just Kids; 2015’s M Train, nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album; and 2019’s acclaimed Year of the Monkey)—continue to resonate and inspire.

PEN America President Jennifer Egan said, “In all of Patti Smith’s thrilling incarnations—rock goddess, poet, eloquent witness to the bohemian New York of her youth—she has testified to the transformative power of literature in her own life and used her stardom to encourage reading and writing in the legions who revere her. A polestar of my own teenage years, she set an example of badass female artistry, coupled with deeply principled humanity, that I’m still trying to live up to.  It will be an almost surreal joy to honor and celebrate the great Patti Smith at our 2020 gala.”

PEN America will celebrate Frank A. Bennack, Jr. for his dexterous, determined leadership first as CEO for 28 years and now as executive vice chairman of Hearst. Hearst has been an extraordinary source of philanthropy and a nimble force for quality journalism, anticipating and responding to seismic changes in the media landscape by introducing bold new ideas and forging lasting partnerships. In October 2019, Simon & Schuster published Bennack’s memoir Leave Something on the Table: And Other Surprising Lessons for Success in Business and in Life. Bennack joins the ranks of recent PEN America Literary Gala Corporate Honorees including Scholastic CEO Richard Robinson (2019) and Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy (2018).

PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said, “We are thrilled to convey this honor to Frank in recognition of Hearst’s invaluable support of PEN America and their innovative leadership in storytelling and information-sharing—from magazines and newspapers that have pushed the boundaries of illuminating content to cable television channels and more than 30 television stations that have educated and delighted audiences nationwide.”

As the Gala approaches, PEN America will announce the 2020 winners of the other prestigious awards presented at the event: the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, which honors writers who have been imprisoned for their work, and the PEN/Benenson Courage Award, which celebrates dauntless exercises of free expression. The PEN America Literary Gala is a highlight of the annual New York literary and social calendar, celebrating creative visionaries while also galvanizing the PEN America community in their ongoing fight for the liberty of true freedom of expression. Proceeds of the dinner are crucial to PEN America’s dynamic cultural programming and critical advocacy work.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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