Tony Kushner Will Receive Pen/Mike Nichols Writing For Performance Award At Pen America Literary Awards

The event is on April 29th at 7:30pm ET at The Town Hall in New York City.

By: Apr. 12, 2024
Tony Kushner Will Receive Pen/Mike Nichols Writing For Performance Award At Pen America Literary Awards
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PEN America announced that playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner among the career achievement honorees for its 2024 PEN America Literary Awards  hosted by Academy Award-nominated writer and comedian Jena Friedman. The event, April 29th at 7:30pm ET at The Town Hall in New York City (123 W 43rd St), marks the 60th annual awards honoring writers from emerging voices to notables of contemporary literature. 

The organization will celebrate Kushner—who collides the epic and intimate in works of astonishing historic, social, and personal depth—with the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award. This career-achievement award honors a writer whose transformative work enlightens and inspires audiences in the tradition of venerated comedian and filmmaker Mike Nichols. Previous winners of this award include Kenneth Lonergan, Tom Stoppard, George C. Wolf, Elaine May, and Tina Fey

Academy Award-winning actor Marcia Gay Harden and Golden Globe-winning breakout star Rachel Zegler—both catapulted to acclaim by their gripping breakout performances in works by Kushner—will present the award. Harden made her Broadway debut playing Harper Pitt in the original Broadway production of Angels in America, Kushner's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play that “changed the national conversation” (The Los Angeles Times) surrounding the AIDS epidemic. Zegler earned a Golden Globe award for her first-ever film role, playing Maria in Kushner's and Steven Spielberg's 2021 adaptation of West Side Story. 

Kushner said, “It's intimidating enough that this honor is named after Mike Nichols, no one ever understood better than him the ways words can be made to perform. But then there's the list of past recipients, each and every one a writer I adore. To say I feel unworthy is not to say I'm not gleefully accepting! I loved working with Mike; he was a magnificent artist and a dear friend. I'm always pleased to be associated with PEN, whose work promoting and protecting writers is even more vitally important in turbulent, troubled times like ours.”

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, PEN America's Chief of Literary Programs, said, “We are so proud to recognize our honorees this year for their excellence and contributions to literature and the arts. We have a more than 100-year history of bringing together writers with a plurality of viewpoints, and understanding that in times of war and dissent, we turn to writers and literature, and to the power of stories to make sense of the world."

The awards ceremony will also recognize the legacy of the late novelist and critic Maryse Condé, the “‘grande dame' of Francophone literature…[who] stood apart in her adamant nonconformity” (The New York Times). Condé, who died April 2 at 90 after a monumental and nearly-five-decade career as a novelist and critic, will be posthumously honored with the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. This award is given annually to a writer whose work represents the highest level of achievement in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama, and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship. The PEN/Nabokov Award recognizes Maryse Condé's enduring impact and honors her memory as a beacon of great literature and incredible strength.

Playwright Guadalís Del Carmen will receive the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, conferred annually to an American playwright with an outstanding voice, and working indisputably at the highest level of achievement. Del Carmen is an Ars Nova Resident Artist, a Dramatist Guild member, and a founder, co-artistic director, and board member of the Latinx Playwrights Circle. Her play Bees and Honey appeared on The Kilroys List 2019, and was produced Off-Broadway in 2023; she was named by The New York Times one of “Four Rising Theater Stars to Watch [That] Spring.”

Poet and translator Suzanne Jill Levine will be honored with the PEN/Ralph Manheim Award for Translation, given every three years to a translator whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of their work. Levine is a Distinguished Professor Emerita of Latin American literature and Translation Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara. She has translated and published more than 40 works of Latin American fiction and poetry, by writers including Julio Cortázar, Silvina Ocampo, Clarice Lispector, Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso, Cristina Rivera Garza, Cecilia Vicuña, Jorge Luis Borges, and several novels by Manuel Puig, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Severo Sarduy, and Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

Every year, PEN America confers more than 20 distinct awards, fellowships, grants and prizes, awarding nearly $350,000 to writers and translators at a ceremony often referred to as “the Oscars for books.” As it celebrates excellence across the spectrum of literary genres and forms, the award ceremony offers book lovers a guide to the riches of vital writing from the previous year. 

Host Jena Friedman, acclaimed for her “fearless” comedy pairing “barbed writing with her easy stage presence” (Paste), will interlace the evening's program of awards and performances with humor and wit. The comedian's debut book Not Funny: Essays on LIfe, Comedy, Et Cetera was published last year; she hosts Indefensible on AMC+, and is currently working on her third stand up special. 

The evening will feature music and performances from powerhouse musical theater artists Liisi LaFontaine (West End: Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Dreamgirls) and Tony and Grammy-winner J. Harrison Ghee (Some Like it Hot, Mrs. Doubtfire), and the evening's musical director, drummer and percussionist Ulysses Owens, Jr. Tickets are available here.

The PEN Literary Awards are juried by panels of esteemed, award-winning authors, editors, translators, and critics. Awards longlists can be viewed here



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