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What the PEN and Charlie Hedbo Scandal Says About Freedom of Expression

PEN American Center Literary Gala
Jemal Countess—Getty Images Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Gerard Biard accepts the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award onstage with Charlie Hebdo Film Critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret, left, and New York Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff, right, at the PEN American Center Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on May 5, 2015 in New York.

The spat over an award for Charlie Hebdo is about much more than just authors fighting

Thursday night, PEN, an organization of writers devoted to freedom of expression, gave an award to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. It’s the sort of ceremony, taking place at a New York gala attended by the literary world’s upper crust, that would seem de rigeur—PEN events in recent years haven’t drawn much attention, or elicited much conversation, outside of the narrow world of writers and editors. But the award to Charlie Hebdo, and the debate over whether or not it was merited, has resonances beyond literary circles. It gets to the heart of how America is meant to respond, in the long-term, to the terrorist attack on the magazine.

Earlier this year, the offices of the magazine in Paris were attacked, part of a string of violent responses to the publication of depictions of Mohammed, which are forbidden in the Muslim faith. This gave rise to two things: first the global popularity of the phrase “Je suis Charlie,” in solidarity with the slain magazine staffers, and later, to a debate over exactly what the value of Charlie Hebdo‘s provocation had been. This was a difficult needle to thread: The magazine styled itself as an equal-opportunity provocateur but many felt it had a particular taste for needling France’s Muslim minority.

PEN’s decision to honor the magazine didn’t merely condemn the murders or call for solidarity with the magazine’s writers. The decision argued that these men and women were exemplary and deserving of praise and honor. Many critics of the decision (including Junot Díaz, Lorrie Moore, and Joyce Carol Oates) signed an open letter to PEN that argued an award given to the Charlie Hebdo staff was a different thing from decrying their murder, and that, while the events in Paris were to be decried, other recipients may have been more deserving of an award for furthering the cause of free expression. Couched though this was in sympathy for loss of life, it still occasioned impassioned defenses of the magazine from many, including Salman Rushdie. The knee-jerk defense of Charlie Hebdo, that we were all Charlie, became something much more complicated, given the number of people who felt empowered to say that they didn’t want to be Charlie. The award finally broke through a set of received opinions around Charlie Hebdo that were unsustainable.

Even still, this award, in the grand scheme of human events and even for the New York-based literary community, means little. But the opportunity it provided to further the conversation about speech means a lot. What sorts of speech are worth defending is, for most believers in free expression, obvious—it’s all of them! But what sorts of speech are worth valorizing is a much more complicated matter—one that had been difficult to confront in a flurry of earnest sympathy for slain writers. There are very few free-speech cases in which the sort of speech is, to so many, as offensive as that of Charlie Hebdo. That makes the questions thornier, and more worthwhile.

The debate is far from over, and it shouldn’t be restricted to the New York literary community—though writers, concerned as they are with words and expression, are the vanguard on this. The recent shootings at a Texas “Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest” show that the Charlie sensibility, and the terrifying reaction it can elicit, is still with us. Do those who stood with Charlie stand, now, with the self-consciously provocative prophet artists in Texas? Those who do, and those who do not, should have the same sort of debate that’s been unfolding in New York. It would be a far better tribute to free speech than signing on to a catchphrase and a set of pieties.

TIME Books

How LSD Cemented Willie Nelson’s Relationship With Pot

Sarah Begley is a culture and breaking news reporter for TIME.

"My love affair with pot became a long-term marriage," the musician writes in his new memoir

It’s no secret that Willie Nelson is fond of weed: he recently announced he’ll market his own brand of recreational marijuana, “Willie’s Reserve.”

But pot is not the only drug the “On the Road Again” singer has tried over the years. In his new memoir, It’s a Long Story: My Life, out this week, he recounts an experiment with LSD in the ’70s. “Could I expand my mind?” he asked himself while deciding to take the plunge. “Could I lose my ego?”

He may not have lost his ego, but he did lose his grasp on reality. Nelson accidentally took triple the amount his “hippie friend” recommended just two hours before a concert, and had to perform while tripping.

As I started singing, my voice sounded like it was coming from inside a cave. Didn’t sound like my voice at all … The flickering lights out in the crowd took the form of fiery figures. Was I freaking? Were there demons out there?

Once offstage, he felt even more panicky, but realized he had to relax as much as possible because his trip worsened with anxiety. When it was over, he decided he would never drop acid again.

[E]xperimenting with LSD convinced me that I had already found the high that worked for me. My love affair with pot became a long-term marriage. It was, by far, the smoothest of all my marriages. Pot and I got along beautifully. Pot never brought me down, never busted my balls. Pot got me up and took me where I needed to go. Pot chased my blues away. When it came to calming my energy and exciting my imagination, pot did the trick damn near every time I toked.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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How Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Stays Modern

929 edition Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,"
Harry Ransom Center Cover of 1929 edition Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," illustrated by Willy Pogany.

The book celebrates its 150th birthday this year

This post is in partnership with the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The article below was originally published on the Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass blog.

The titular heroine of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass has changed to reflect the aesthetics of the times outside her fictional word. The fantastical nature of the story allows a certain freedom of temporality: although the narrative was written to occur in Victorian Britain, there are no specific indicators of the year, and the story could just as easily have been set in the twenty-first century. The changing visual depictions of Alice reflect this sense of timelessness. Having a contemporary-looking Alice makes it easy for younger audiences to relate to her and helps to explain Wonderland’s enduring popularity.

First published in 1865, Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations imagine Alice in a contemporary mid-Victorian pinafore, apron, and stockings. Tenniel’s depiction of Alice was the standard for the rest of the 1800s, but by the turn of the century, when the book went out of copyright, other illustrators reimagined the tale. Bessie Gutmann created Nouveau Alice in 1907, who wears a white, high-necked dress with full, long sleeves; her hair is long, swept up, and adorned with a flower.

In the 1920s Alice became a sporty flapper. Willy Pogany’s 1929 illustrations depict a lanky Alice, somewhat older than previous representations, wearing a short, plaid skirt, short sleeve top with a tie at the neck, and knee socks. Her hair is bobbed and boyish, as per the androgynous Jazz Age fashion.

Mid-century Alice reverts to the traditional, much like popular culture at the time. Disney released the animated Alice in Wonderland film in 1951, in which Alice dons a blue dress, white apron, and a black ribbon in her hair, very similar to Tenniel’s depiction. Subsequent illustration from the period shows Disney’s influence.

During the 1960s and ’70s, Alice adapts to the fashion of the period. One 1970 edition puts an older-looking Alice in a hot pink minidress with a Brigitte Bardot-esque bouffant; another illustration from the same year makes Alice look like she walked off of the set of The Brady Bunch, in a floral-accented minidress, knee socks, and long, straight hair.

The continued success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is related to its ability to stay relevant and fresh to generations of readers. The story itself is not rooted in any particular temporal setting, and thus Alice has the ability to change her style to look like her readers. Although Alice was created in the Victorian era, she is anything but drab and prim: she is, more than many other literary heroines, thoroughly modern.

See the rest of the gallery of Alice book covers here at the Harry Ransom Center blog

TIME Books

How to Be a Skillful Negotiator, According to Sen. George Mitchell

Sarah Begley is a culture and breaking news reporter for TIME.

The chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks shares his secrets in a new memoir

As a former U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland and the Middle East, George Mitchell knows a thing or two about heated negotiations. From his work on the Good Friday Agreement to meetings with important figures on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the former U.S. Senate majority leader has had to keep calm — and try to keep everyone around him calm — while discussing deeply controversial topics. Mitchell shares a few of his secrets in his new memoir, The Negotiator: Reflections on an American Life.

Don’t be too enamored with the sound of your own voice.

Early in his career, Mitchell recounts telling his boss, then-Senator Ed Muskie, that his speeches often dragged on too long. “You’re a smart young man,” Muskie replied. “I think it’s likely that someday you’ll be in elected office, giving speeches like I have this week. When you do you’ll find that there’s nothing in the world like the sound of your own voice.”

But Mitchell learned the importance of listening after taking over Muskie’s seat in the Senate.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, when I served in the Senate I was being prepared for the Northern Ireland peace talks. There I spent hundreds of hours listening. By doing so I earned the confidence of the delegates to the talks; I learned what their concerns were; I ultimately figured out where the common ground was. The result was a peace agreement that ended a brutal long-standing conflict.

In other words, abide by the old proverb about having two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Focus on individuals.

In his many years in politics, Mitchell noticed a bad habit of public figures.

[I]t is often the case that a person speaks and then thinks about his or her next statement rather than intently listen to what others are saying; that is especially true of public figures who meet, usually briefly, large numbers of people. By the time you get to shake a person’s hand, your eyes and mind often are on the next person in line. Too many persons in positions of authority become accustomed to deference, develop excessive self-confidence, and are incapable of showing respect to others, especially those with whom they disagree. These attitudes demean the position and lessen the person’s ability to perform his or her duties.

By making others feel important, you can more easily persuade them to see your point of view.

Take big risks.

Mitchell sees chairing the Northern Ireland peace negotiations as one of the most daring of his career, noting that the conflict was “ancient, fueled by religious and other differences,” but wanted to do the best job he could in the high-stakes environment.

By far the greatest risk I took in the negotiations themselves was when I established the firm and final deadline of midnight on April 10, 1998. That was regarded by some as a desperate and dangerous move. Some British civil servants opposed the deadline; they had been engaged in trying to manage the Troubles for many years, and they feared that an abrupt end to the process would trigger an immediate return to violence more savage than ever. I shared their concern. But, I argued, without a final deadline the process was ultimately more likely to fail, producing the very result they feared.

In the end, the gamble worked, and Northern Ireland reached the Good Friday Agreement. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The Negotiator hits stands this week.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

PEN Gala Honors Charlie Hebdo Amid Uproar

Gerard Biard (L), editor-in-chief of the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, speaks before critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret (R) during the annual PEN American Center Literary Gala May 5, 2015 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Timothy A. Clark—AFP/Getty Images Gerard Biard, left, editor-in-chief of the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, speaks before critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret (R) during the annual PEN American Center Literary Gala May 5, 2015 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York

More than 200 writers had signed a letter of protest against the decision

The PEN American Center recognized Charlie Hebdo with the 2015 Freedom of Expression Courage Award on Tuesday night.

Six writers set to host tables at the ceremony pulled out in protest last month, citing their discomfort with the organization honoring a publication they saw as promoting “cultural intolerance.” More than 200 writers and PEN members then signed a letter of protest siding with them, sparking a vigorous debate within the literary community about the limits of free speech.

Extra security was present at the event, which took place in New York City at the Museum of Natural History, just two days after gunmen opened fire outside of a Garland, Tex., event showcasing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Six writers (including Neil Gaiman and Art Spiegelman) stepped in to fill the seats vacated by their dissenting peers (including Peter Carey and Rachel Kushner).

“One can perhaps be castigated for failing to mention the elephant in the room,” said PEN American Center president Andrew Solomon in his opening remarks, “or in this case, the whale in the room,” referring to the 21,000-pound blue whale replica suspended over the guests.

French Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou, a presenter of the award, noted that he lost a close friend, Bernard Maris, in the Jan. 7 attack, noting “I miss him a lot tonight.” He also stressed the need to understand the specific cultural circumstances around Charlie Hebdo’s satire before criticizing it.

Dominique Sopo, who leads an anti-racism organization in France called SOS Racisme, said that the newspaper is in fact an ally in the fight against racism, as it satirizes those who would commit violence against black, Jewish, Arab and Roma people in France.

Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, Gérard Biard, accepted the award alongside Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a film critic. The two men kept the tone of their speeches fairly light, with Thoret joking that he’d like to know what Arnold Schwarzenegger thought of the first issue he received after subscribing in solidarity in January, while Biard said that secularism is “not an F-word. Nor is it a French cultural exception like smelly cheese or flabby presidents.”

New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff also took the stage to applaud the editors of Charlie Hebdo. “There was no way I was gonna back out because, well, frankly, I rented this tux,” he said. “Worth every penny. It’s bulletproof.”

TIME Books

Mindy Kaling Reveals Cover for Second Book Why Not Me?

It hits shelves on Sept. 29

Mindy Kaling revealed the cover for her highly-anticipated second book, Why Not Me?, on Twitter Tuesday. The followup to Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) hits shelves on September 29; its cover features the actress, writer, and The Mindy Project showrunner entering—or perhaps, leaving—a pale blue room.

Kaling is opening BookCon at the end of this month, in a conversation with fellow The Office alum, writer, and pal B.J. Novak. BookCon will be held in New York City at the Javits Center, May 30-31.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

TIME Media

Scholars Discover 150-Year-Old Letters Written by Mark Twain

Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, shows a letter from Twain to his brother Orion Clemens and sister-in-law Mollie Clemens from October 1865.
Jeff Chiu—AP Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, shows a letter from Twain to his brother Orion Clemens and sister-in-law Mollie Clemens from October 1865.

The Mark Twain Project found about 110 dispatches written in 1865 and 1866

(SAN FRANCISCO)—Scholars at the University of California, Berkeley have pieced together a collection of dispatches written by Mark Twain when the author was a young newsman in San Francisco.

In the letters, the man who would write The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, likened the city’s police chief to a dog chasing its tail and accused city government of rascality. Some of the letters carried his flair for embellishment and may not be entirely true.

“This is a very special period in his life, when he’s out here in San Francisco,” said Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project on the Berkeley campus.

“He’s utterly free, he’s not encumbered by a marriage or much of anything else, and he can speak his mind and does speak his mind. These things are wonderful to read, the ones that survived.”

Twain was likely 29 years old when he started filing near-daily columns for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1865. He wrote a 2,000-word story, or “letter,” six days a week for a salary of $100 a month, Hirst said.

Many of the letters were in back issues lost to fires, but Twain scholars picked through archives of other Western U.S. newspapers for copies. They have found about 110 columns written in 1865 and 1866.

In one letter, Twain gives detailed dialogue between two gold speculators trapped in a shaft, clinging to rope tied to an old horse named Cotton.

“Johnny, I’ve not lived as I ought to have lived. D–n that infernal horse!” Twain reported one man saying to the other. “Johnny, if we are saved I mean to be a good man and a Christian.”

It’s unclear how Twain acquired that level of detail. Hirst said the story is likely based on some facts.

Twain was also struggling at the time with his career, uncertain if writing humorously was literature, Hirst said.

In an 1865 letter to his brother, Twain wrote of contemplating suicide, partly due to debt. But Twain’s time in San Francisco may have helped change that. The following year, he moved to Hawaii.

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Hoped Princess Charlotte Would Be Named for a Harry Potter Character

Princess Nymphadora, anyone?

British author J.K. Rowling welcomed the newest member of the royal family, princess Charlotte, with a little disappointment.

Nymphadora, of course, is more commonly known as Tonks in the Wizarding World. In the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Tonks’ character asked her would-be-husband Remus Lupin not to call her by her first name, referring to her mother as a “fool” for naming her Nymphadora.

Princess Charlotte was born Saturday in London’s St Mary’s Hospital and already will bear the royal moniker of Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, with no “Nymphadora” in sight. Princess Charlotte is named for her grandmother and great-grandmother, Will’s late mother Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II.

TIME Television

The Magicians Trilogy Coming to Television

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Syfy announced a 12-episode adaptation of the best-selling books

The Magicians trilogy, the best-selling fantasy book series from author Lev Grossman, is headed to television.

After giving the green light to a pilot last year, Syfy has ordered a 12-episode series that starts shooting in Vancouver this July, the channel announced Monday. “Ever since The Magicians was published I’ve wanted to see this story on screen,” said Grossman, who is TIME’s book critic. “The people, the school, the other worlds, the magic. I’m so thrilled that it’s finally happening, and I’m beyond thrilled that we found the right people to do it.”

Jason Ralph will star protagonist Quentin Coldwater, a gifted college student who enrolls in a magical university. Hale Appleman, Summer Bishil, Arjun Gupta and Stella Maeve have also been cast in the adaptation of the series, whose first installment, The Magicians, was published in 2009 and spawned two sequels: The Magician King in 2011 and The Magician’s Land in 2014.


TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Apologizes for Harry Potter Death

“*Bows head in acceptance of your reasonable ire*”

Back in (the fictional) 1998, Fred Weasley died during the Battle of Hogwarts. And now, Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling is apologizing for it.

“Today I would just like to say: I’m really sorry about Fred,” she tweeted about the ginger’s demise in 2007’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “*Bows head in acceptance of your reasonable ire*”

Rowling chose May 2 of all days to express her regret because that date marks the 17th anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, she explained Saturday on Twitter. “I thought I might apologise for one death per anniversary,” she wrote. “Fred was the worst for me, so I started with him.” Apology appreciated, Rowling, but what about a retraction? See the author’s tweets below.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

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