Novelists Boycott NY Gala In Charlie Hebdo Protest

Novelists Boycott NY Gala In Charlie Hebdo Protest

New York (AFP) — Six prominent novelists are boycotting a New York literary gala next week to protest against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo being honored with a freedom of expression award.

Australia’s Peter Carey, Canada’s Michael Ondaatje, British-born Taiye Selasi, and Americans Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, and Francine Prose have withdrawn from the May 5 PEN American Center gala.

They informed PEN over the weekend of their decision not to attend the glittering annual event, which is also a key fund-raiser, a month after the Charlie Hebdo award was first announced.

“They’ve all been in touch with us to say they didn’t feel comfortable attending,” PEN executive director Suzanne Nossel said.

Carey, a two-times Booker Prize winner, told The New York Times that the award stepped beyond PEN’s traditional role of protecting freedom of expression against government oppression.

“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” the newspaper quoted him as saying in an email interview.

“All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

On January 7, two brothers claiming to avenge the magazine’s depiction of the Prophet Mohammed — offensive to Muslims — stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, killing 12 people.

The killings sparked debate about freedom of expression and the central role that secularism plays in French public life in contrast to the primacy of religious freedom in the United States.

The Times said Kushner was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view.”

“In recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations,” Nigerian-American novelist Cole wrote in a New Yorker article shortly after the attacks in January.

Nossel said more than 800 writers, publishers, editors and supporters were expected to attend the gala, but that no one else apart from the six had communicated their intention not to come.

“We respect their views,” Nossel said. “There’s been a lot of heated exchange about this on social media this morning and that can be healthy but from our perspective we’re a big tent and there’s a lot of room at PEN for differences of opinion.”

Nossel said PEN had anticipated “some degree of controversy” when the organization decided to award the prize in late January but was taken aback by the “intensity” of Monday’s debate.

“We welcome the dialogue and the debate and we recognize that people need to follow their conscience, but there has been no question in our mind in terms of going forward,” she said.

PEN wrote on its website that it did not believe Charlie Hebdo‘s intent was to “ostracize or insult Muslims, but rather to reject forcefully the efforts of a small minority of radical extremists to place broad categories of speech off limits.”

British writer Salman Rushdie, who went into hiding after a 1989 fatwa called for his death over his book The Satanic Verses, said his old friends, Carey and Ondaatje were “horribly wrong.”

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” he told the Times.

Photo: (© / Carl Court) Peter Carey, a two-times Booker Prize winner, said the freedom of expression award stepped beyond the PEN group’s traditional role of protecting freedom of expression against government oppression, the Times reported

Fashion Designer Oscar De La Renta Dies At 82

Fashion Designer Oscar De La Renta Dies At 82

New York– Legendary fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, whose beautiful clothes defined American elegance for generations and were beloved by first ladies and Hollywood stars, has died aged 82.

His company website bore only his trademark signature in white against a navy blue background.

U.S. media reported his death at his home in Kent, Connecticut, quoting family members on Monday. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2006.

Earlier this month, his luxury brand announced that British-born designer Peter Copping would take over as creative director although that he would work closely with de la Renta on designing the next collection.

Schooled in the mastery of European couture, de la Renta worked until the end of his life, most recently designing the wedding dress for human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, who wed Hollywood heart throb George Clooney in Venice last month.

One of the world’s most eminent designers, his frocks were worn by American first ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan to Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, as well as film stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker.

Tributes quickly poured in from friends, celebrities and younger designers who mourned the loss of one of America’s most eminent designers.

Former first lady Bush said she and her husband, George W. Bush, were “deeply saddened” by his death, saying he had designed the favorite clothes of her and her twin daughters.

“We will miss Oscar’s generous and warm personality, his charm, and his wonderful talents,” she said in a statement.

“We will always remember him as the man who made women look and feel beautiful.”

U.S. singer Gloria Estefan said de la Renta had been “a big part of 3 of my life’s biggest moments.

“Much love and peace 2 his family and all who loved him!” she wrote on Twitter.

“Saddened to hear the news about Oscar de la Renta. Thank you for bringing so much beauty into the world #RIP,” wrote designer Rebecca Minkoff.

– Career spanning five decades –

“Truly saddened by the loss of one of the greatest fashion icons of all time,” wrote designer and businesswoman Ivanka Trump.

Born on July 22, 1932 in the Dominican Republic, de la Renta left home to study in Madrid and work as an apprentice to Cristobal Balenciaga.

In 1960 he moved to France to become an assistant at Lanvin in Paris, where he embedded himself in the world of haute couture, before moving to the United States to work for Elizabeth Arden.

He created his eponymous label in 1965 and over the decades became one of the most lauded designers in New York. He created clothes of timeless elegance, regal glamor, and sophistication beloved by generations of women.

He was twice president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and honored with a string of awards.

In a career that spanned five decades, de la Renta saw his company grow into a multi-million-dollar empire that included ready to wear, fragrances, a home line, and a bridal collection, which he launched in 2006.

He married twice, first in 1967 to Francoise de Langlade, an editor at French Vogue and in 1989, six years after her death, he married American publisher Annette Reed.

Popular and charming, de la Renta built close rapports with fellow designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano, whom he invited to spend time in his workshop after his career collapsed over an anti-Semitic rant.

“Everyone in life deserves a second chance,” said de la Renta at the time. “I think that life is about forgiving and helping people.”

He entertained generously with his wives, keeping a Rolodex of famous friends, including the Clintons, Henry Kissinger and the late writer Truman Capote.

In an interview with New York Magazine published last year, de la Renta looked back on his long career and the changes in the fashion world.

“It’s unbelievably extraordinary to remember that when I came to New York, it was a time when women couldn’t wear a pair of pants to a restaurant.

“What women have achieved in the last 50 years, I wish men would have achieved in the last 100. I’m sorry to say it, but we’re really stupid.”

AFP Photo/Don Emmert

Want more national news stories? Sign up for our daily email newsletter.