Honorees Christopher Finan, Angie Thomas, and Roxana Robinson spoke out against book banning, racial inequity, and threats to free speech.
May 12, 2023
From left to right: National Coalition Against Censorship executive director Christopher Finan, The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas, and former Authors Guild president Roxana Robinson accept awards at the 2023 Authors Guild Gala. Photos by Beowulf Sheehan.
New York (May 12, 2023): The Authors Guild Foundation’s 31st Annual Benefit packed The Plaza Hotel’s Grand Ballroom in a celebration of writers and the power of the written word on Tuesday, May 9.
The warm, positive energy in the room was palpable as writers, publishers, agents, and literary influencers gave standing ovations to passionate speeches on banned book advocacy, racial equity in publishing, and the urgent work of maintaining free speech. Hosted by Roxane Gay and Debbie Millman, this year’s celebration marked the first time in four years that authors, publishers, friends, and colleagues were able to come together in person for this event.
“The evening was inspiring, lively, and festive, a dazzling celebration of literature and free expression,” said Christina Baker Kline, chair of the 2023 gala committee. “I was honored to join a diverse and talented group of writers and advocates who care deeply about the Guild’s work in these challenging times.”
The Guild paid tribute to three inspiring honorees: Christopher Finan, the recipient of The Authors Guild Foundation Award for Defending Free Speech and Expression presented by Tracie D. Hall; Angie Thomas, the recipient of The Authors Guild Foundation Award for Literary Activism presented by Jason Reynolds; and Roxana Robinson, the recipient of The Authors Guild Foundation Preston Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community presented by Elizabeth Strout.
Christopher Finan started the night on an optimistic note: “We have been fighting book censorship in the United States since the 1920s. A century of success gives us every reason to believe we will meet the current challenge as long as we keep fighting for free speech.”
Jason Reynolds, who introduced honoree Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, noted the critical importance of the many young adult authors in the room—who included himself, Judy Bloom, and Suzanne Collins, among others—because they help shape the way the next generation understands the world.
Thomas followed this up in her acceptance speech by noting, “These book banners recognize that Gen Z has power, and it terrifies them to think that young people could realize America ain’t free for all and do something about it.”
She also spoke candidly about the challenges Black writers face in the publishing industry. Addressing the other writers of color in the room, she said, “To be honest, there are folks in this room who owe you an apology because it should not have taken this long, nor should it take all of that work for children’s literature to look like all children. We need diverse books should’ve been an understood truth. But nonetheless, thank you.”
Honoree Roxana Robinson underscored the power of writing when she said, “In a democracy we needed to know the truth about civic life, public life, and it was writers who set down those truths. Their stories have informed us what it means to be human.”
The speeches and conversations all echoed the underlying tenets of the Authors Guild’s work. “Through their written work and their bold advocacy, each of tonight’s honorees has demonstrated the critical importance of the written word and the dire need to protect it. We honor their courage and passion, more important than ever in this unsettling period of growing book censorship and intolerance,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild and Authors Guild Foundation.
“Chris, Angie, and Roxana exemplify the mission of the Authors Guild and the Authors Guild Foundation to advance the rights of today’s writers and foster an ongoing commitment to the artistic and educational benefits that a vibrant American literary and creative culture offers,” she added.
Proceeds from the event will be used to support the Foundation’s advocacy to protect and promote the writing profession to ensure that a vibrant, diverse body of literature continues to flourish in the U.S.
With more than 13,000 members, the Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for published writers. It advocates on behalf of working writers to protect free speech, freedom of expression and authors’ copyrights; fights for fair contracts and authors’ ability to earn a livable wage; and provides a welcoming community for writers and translators of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and journalism. Through its educational and charitable arm, the Authors Guild Foundation, it also offers free programming to teach working writers about the business of writing, as well as organizing public events that highlight the importance of a rich, diverse American literary culture and the authors that contribute to it.