Literary News: PEN America Awards


Event Convenes Stars of Literature, Entertainment, and Media in Celebration of the Past Year’s Best Writing, Conferring Over $350,000 in Awards


(NEW YORK)—PEN America today announces Kal Penn, the acclaimed actor, author, and former Obama White House aide, as host of the 60th annual PEN America Literary Awards, to be held Thursday, March 2, at The Town Hall (123 W 43rd St) in New York City. This year’s ceremony exemplifies the event’s recent growth into a preeminent gathering of the city’s writing, publishing, entertainment, and media luminaries with passionate book lovers to bestow some of the most significant prizes in literature. The red carpet opens at 6pm, followed by the ceremony at 8pm. Tickets, starting at $15, are on sale now at

This year’s star-studded lineup of career-achievement award winners, presenters, and performers will be announced soon.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief program officer for Literary Programming at PEN America, said, “Kal Penn epitomizes PEN America’s belief in the capacity of writers and artists to instigate social and political change. His illuminating, often hilarious 2021 memoir You Can’t Be Serious reveals in candid prose a life and multi-hyphenated career—including a hiatus from acting to do crucial work at the White House—that sets an example for civically engaged artistry. He is the perfect person to lead a captivating evening celebrating exemplary literature—while considering the urgent societal concerns within many of these books, and the work PEN America does in advocating for free expression year-round.”

Described as “the Oscars for books” by past host Seth Meyers, the PEN America Literary Awards feature speeches, live music, theatrical performances, and a moving In Memoriam segment honoring the literary greats lost over the last year. Writers and cultural visionaries will present 11 book awards and three career-achievement awards: the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature; the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. In the past, the ceremony has been enlivened by powerhouse talents such as Christine Baranski, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Eisa Davis, Jackie Sibblies Drury, André Holland, Kenneth Lonergan, Elaine May, Cynthia Nixon, and Tom Stoppard. Finalists for all book awards will be announced later in February, and all winners will be revealed at the ceremony. See PEN America’s previously-announced longlists for the book awards here.

The PEN America Literary Awards recognize both established and emerging writers and are remarkably effective as identifiers of early talent. PEN America’s awards were among the very first to recognize Chang Rae Lee (1996), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2002), Jonathan Safran Foer (2002), Imani Perry (2019), and countless others. Lisa Ko’s The Leavers went from winning the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, an award that honors an exceptional unpublished manuscript, to being a national bestseller.

Spanning fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, and translation, the books celebrated at the awards are dynamic, diverse, and thought-provoking examples of literary excellence. By the end of the evening, PEN America will have conferred more than $350,000 in awards to writers and translators.

Each award is juried by panels of esteemed authors, editors, translators, and critics. These judges, selected with the help of the PEN America Literary Awards Committee, hail from across the world and represent a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, and literary pursuits, with some award-winning writers themselves—including Lauren GroffKimiko HahnJohn McWhorter, and Erika L. Sánchez, and many more.

NOTE: You can see a list of categories and finalists here

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