Philip Roth Honored at PEN Gala

The literary world continues to heap accolades on Philip Roth in the year of his 80th birthday, the latest being the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award given Tuesday night at the PEN Liteary Gala at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. But this honor thanks Roth not only for his books but for what he’s done for other writers, especially Czech authors like Ivan Klima and Milan Kundera. In the 1970s Roth traveled to Prague every spring, arranged to have peers such as Arthur Miller and William Styron to send money to persecuted authors, and helped Klima, Kundera, and other Eastern European writers publish their novels in the U.S. during the Cold War. The PEN Foundation also gave the Barbara Goldsmith/Freedom to Write Award to Ayşe Berktay, the Turkish translator and political activist who faces a sentence of 22 years if she is convicted of having “membership in an illegal organization,” which refers to her support for Kurdish rights. During his speech, Roth recalled Klima’s story of being questioned by the police, who asked him why Roth visits Prague so regularly. “Don’t you read his books?” Klima asked the police. “He comes for the girls.”