Free-speech organization PEN American Center has announced it will give its 2016 PEN/Allen Literary Service award to “Harry Potter” writer J.K. Rowling. The award honors “a critically acclaimed author whose work embodies its mission to oppose repression in any form and to champion the best of humanity.”
“I’m deeply honored to receive this award and humbled that my work has been recognized as having moral value by an organization I so admire,” Rowling said to The Associated Press. “I’ve long been a supporter of PEN, which does invaluable work on behalf of imprisoned writers and in defense of freedom of speech.”
The award is fitting for Rowling–the “Harry Potter” series follows the titular young wizard who fights the evil Lord Voldemort and his quest to keep magical bloodlines “pure.” Rowling has used the series and its antagonists in the past to comment on social and political issues, most recently comparing the spokeswoman of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to Death Eaters, a group who supports Voldemort. It’s also fitting that the award is coming from an organization promoting free speech, as Rowling’s work has been challenged so often that she was named the 21st century’s most challenged author by the American Library Association in 2006. The series has been accused of promoting witchcraft.
“Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humor, and a love of reading, along the way revealing moral choices that help us better understand ourselves,” PEN American President Andrew Solomon said in a statement. “Through their experiences with Rowling both on and off the page, countless children have learned not only the power of speaking their own minds, but the critical importance of hearing others.”
In addition, the award acknowledges Rowling’s charitable endeavors, specifically the charities she’s created herself–Volant, dedicated to ending poverty, and Lumos, which aims to end the placement of children in orphanages.
Past winners of the award include Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood. PEN will also honor Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch, who last year–along with with several other publishers–made an informal pledge to fight censorship of translated books in China.
The awards will be presented at PEN’s literary gala on May 16.