EXCLUSIVE: Outgoing Disney executive chairman Bob Iger and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. are set to receive top honors from PEN America in person this fall at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History, perhaps.
Hoping for the coronavirus pandemic to continue to dampen domestically, PEN America planning to go non-virtual with its annual Literary Gala on October 5 in the Upper West Side locale’s Hall of Ocean Life.
The tableclothed fetting will come a few months before Iger formally concludes his time at the House of Mouse, a 15-year reign as CEO that lifted the company to its dominate position in Hollywood. Currently executive chairman and chairman of Disney’s board of directors after having given up the CEO gig in early 2020, Iger’s designation as the bluntly named Corporate Honoree is based on “his career enlightening and entertaining billions at the helm of The Walt Disney Company, providing visionary leadership for one of the world’s most iconic companies,” says PEN America.
“Storytelling is at the heart of everything we do at Disney, and it is incredibly important to us to tell stories that best reflect the audiences we’re trying to reach and the world that exists today,” Iger said in a statement today. “I’m delighted to accept this award on behalf of all of the extraordinarily talented writers, creators, innovators, and visionaries who make up The Walt Disney Company, and look forward to celebrating PEN America and the outstanding work they do at this very special event.”
A year and a half after Hamilton the movie debuted on Disney+, the show’s creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda has been designated to hand the award to Iger – if the live October event does occur.
The same night will see Emmy, National Humanities Medal and Peabody Award winning Finding Your Roots host Gates receive the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award for “a lifetime of contributions to literature and history.”
‘Free expression has defined every facet of my career, and I’m grateful to PEN America for choosing to honor me as part of its long tradition of upholding the freedom to write,” said Gates. “This past year has proven that we cannot live without dissent,” the prolific author, filmmaker and scholar added. “We cannot live without passion. We cannot live without a free and open exchange of ideas that defends the unpopular but also uplifts the silenced. I look forward to joining PEN America this fall to celebrate.”
Of course, even though Covid-19 looks to be on the decline in the U.S. as more and more Americans get vaccinated and new infections fall, a lot can change between now and the beginning of October.
“While we cannot know for sure what the fall will bring, we are hoping to be live on October 5 with a celebration of writers, storytellers, and the freedoms that make their work possible,” says PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “The PEN America Literary Gala is a beloved affair and one of the best parties of the year.
“We are delighted to recognize Bob Iger for his unparalleled role in fueling the life of the imagination worldwide by building on Disney’s iconic history and reputation to find boundless new ways to excite audiences and elevate new narratives through films, books, television, parks, and virtually every other venue in which we imbibe stories,” Nossel added. “Henry Louis Gates’ curiosity, bracing honesty, and brilliant insights have reshaped the American academy, elevated new disciplines, uncovered lost histories, and sharpened our understanding of America,” the PEN America CEO continued
“Both leaders have raised the bar in their respective fields, and we are privileged that they will join us for our 2021 gala celebration.”
In anticipation of the live gala happening, PEN America expect to reveal more of awards info over the next few months, including the recipients of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award and the PEN/Benenson Courage Award
Last year’s virtual gala honored Barack Obama and Patti Smith, with about 17,000 watching at one point or another. As well as the former POTUS and the outspoken punk poet and singer, the December 2020 event also spotlighted Darnella Frazier, the Minneapolis teen who filmed the killing of George Floyd by police on May 25, Chinese dissident writer Xu Zhiyong, Marie Yovanovitch, who Donald Trump axed as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and Hearst Chairman Frank Bennack Jr.