PEN courage award recipient Anita Hill, left, and PEN literary service award recipient Bob Woodward pose together at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini\/Invision\/AP) (Associated Press) By Hillel Italie\u2009|\u2009AP May 22 at 2:22 AM NEW YORK \u2014 The featured speakers at the annual benefit gala for PEN America shared stories about truth and the determination to learn it. Hundreds gathered Tuesday night at the American Museum of Natural History as the literary and human rights organization presented awards to Anita Hill and Bob Woodward among others. With John Oliver serving as host, joking that the country under President Donald Trump was \u201cnot at its best right now,\u201d the evening celebrated men and women at odds with their government, whether in the U.S or abroad. Not all of the honorees were able to attend. PEN for decades has given a Freedom to Write Award to dissidents, often imprisoned, from other countries. This year\u2019s recipients, the Saudi activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan, are currently facing trial for their advocacy of women\u2019s rights. PEN America President Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, did cite a hopeful trend: 39 out of the 44 previous winners of the Freedom to Write Award have since been freed. Woodward, 76, has been known for decades as one of the Washington Post reporters who helped break the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon out of office. Winner of PEN\u2019S Literary Service Award, he was introduced by historian Robert Caro, another writer famous for his exhaustive investigative work. Caro marveled at the persistence of Woodward and fellow Post journalist Carl Bernstein, recalling how they probed a list of 100 potential sources by showing up at each of their homes and knocking on their doors. The true reporter, Caro said, was \u201csomeone who never stops trying to get as close to the truth as possible.\u201d Woodward likened his years writing about Nixon to the current time, worrying that Trump had \u201clegitimized hate and fear.\u201d He also added his own story about shoe leather as the path to truth. He spoke of a 4-star general who didn\u2019t want to speak to him for a book he was working on about the administration of President George W. Bush. The general didn\u2019t respond to phone messages, invitations or to the efforts of intermediaries. So Woodward remembered the advice of his old friend Bernstein, who was in the audience at the PEN gala and later joined him at the podium: Turn up in person. He reasoned that Tuesday night, around 8:17, was a good time to find a general at home. When Woodward knocked, the general greeted him, \u201cAre you still doing this s---!\u201d Woodward stood there, \u201cpoker-faced,\u201d hoping that his \u201csilence would suck out the truth.\u201d \u201cHe looked at me and he finally got a disappointed look on his face \u2014 I think not at me, but at himself,\u201d Woodward said. \u201cAnd he waived me in and sat for two hours and answered most of my questions.\u201d Why did he relent? \u201cSomebody showed up.\u201d The actress and #MeToo activist Lupita Nyong\u2019o presented Hill the PEN America Courage Award and praised her for her willingness to testify in 1991, long before the #MeToo movement, that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. The 62-year-old Hill, head of a Hollywood commission on ending sexual harassment, joined herself to those before her. Noting that she was descended from slaves, she traced her family history from her maternal grandmother, who was illiterate, to her mother, who mostly read the Bible and Reader\u2019s Digest, to her own background as a graduate of Yale Law School. Her time before the Senate Judiciary Committee (chaired by Democrat Joe Biden, now a top presidential contender), made her realize that for all of her achievements she remained a black woman before a panel of white men, that her right to speak freely about \u201cthe truth\u201d of her experience \u201cwas in fact, limited.\u201d \u201cIt\u2019s taken generations to get the privilege that I have to write and to speak out, with the truth, and to speak to truth to power,\u201d she said. \u201cIt\u2019s taken that long and I will never, never give it up.\u201d Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.