On Monday, October 21, PEN American Center, the largest branch of the world’s leading literary and human rights organization, celebrated its 2013 Literary awards at the Proshansky Auditorium of CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. “I’ve seen a common thread tonight that writing should be more than just art but activism,” Master of Ceremonies Andy Borowitz said of the evening. “And I am taking that all as a personal attack on me.”
Borowitz’s remarks summed up an evening of literary camaraderie, activism, and humor that characterized the ceremony and its honorees. For more than 50 years, the PEN Literary awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across such diverse fields as fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, and drama. This year’s awards ceremony captured PEN’s dual mission to advance literature and defend freedom of expression by celebrating the activist writer, most notably with Larry Kramer, but also with writers like Sergio De La Pava, Gina Apostol, Kevin Young, Kirsten Greenidge,Tom Reiss and others whose work illustrate honest accounts of people, cultures, and issues on the fringe, embodying themes central to the fight for individual rights and freedoms.
Executive Director Suzanne Nossel acknowledged this activism in her remarks for the evening, saying, “For the writers of PEN, the defense of free expression and human rights is not a task but an inspiration. It’s no coincidence that many of the writers whose inspiration we celebrate tonight tell stories that–in ways both overt
and subtle–probe the abuse of power and abuse of rights, whether the political or the personal. By appreciating them, we remember what’s ultimately at stake in the fight for free expression.”
With the help of its partners and supporters, PEN conferred 16 distinct awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes, awarding nearly $150,000 to writers, editors, and translators. Presenters Morgan Entrekin, Kimiko Hahn, Dinaw Mengestu, and Minna Proctor introduced the winners.
Actor Mark Ruffalo presented the PEN/Laura Pels Award for Master American Dramatist to Larry Kramer, addressing Kramer’s activism as much as his literary talent. “Kramer’s fearless work obscures the boundaries between the personal and the political,” he said. “He has worked to bring a crucial awareness to the fight against HIV/AIDS even in the face of censorship and condemnation by his peers.” On behalf of PEN, Ruffalo presented Kramer with a limited first edition of Eugene O’Neill’s Collected Early Plays, signed by the renowned playwright.
“Theatre is too small,” Kramer pronounced over the attentive audience, after receiving a standing ovation. “We have to think bigger as writers. We have to try and change the world.” Additional quotes from winners and presenters are available upon request.
After the ceremony, the winners and guests, including PEN President Peter Godwin, Literary Awards Committee Chair Alice Quinn, Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, Joanna Coles, Barbara Goldsmith, Frank and Carol Deford, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Carl Spielvogel, Angela Tarantino, Len Amanto, Dante Di Loreto, Kathleen Beckett, Ben McGrath, and more continued to celebrate over cocktails and crudites at the reception that immediately followed.
The awards were also made possible through the generous contributions made by CUNY, for donating their Graduate Center Auditorium, all of the judges who donated their time and energy choosing the winners, and the generous support of PEN’s many donors: www.Amazon.com, Kathleen Beckett and Steven Kroll, the family of Robert W. Bingham, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Carl Spielvogel, ESPN, Harrison Ford, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Kaplen Foundation, the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, Phyllis Naylor, The Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater, the Estate of Rochelle Ratner, Dr. Edward O. Wilson and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, Gerald Weales, and Jacqueline Bograd Weld and Rodman L. Drake.