PEN America To Honor Five Career Achievement Prize Recipients

In News by Porter Anderson

In Thursday’s 2021 PEN America program, the Career Achievement Prize recipients were announced: George C. Wolfe, Anne Carson, Daniel Alexander Jones, Kwame Dawes, and Pierre Joris.

Image: PEN America

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

$88,500 in Awards Money
Thursday (April 8) at 7 p.m. ET (00:00 GMT Friday), PEN America will honor its five 2021 recipients of its Career Achievement Awards during its digital program announcing the winners of the Pen America Literary Awards.

While Publishing Perspectives readers will recall the 55 books grouped into a long set of shortlists for those US$380,000 literary awards from our article in February, the recipients of this year’s Career Achievement Prize winners have actually been named and can be announced now before Thursday night’s presentation.

PEN America 2021 Career Achievement Prize Winners

PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award ($25,000)

  • George C. Wolfe

George C. Wolfe

This award honors a writer “whose transformative work enlightens and inspires audiences in the tradition of venerated comedian and filmmaker Mike Nichols. The winner will continuously break into new thematic or artistic ground with each subsequent work.”

The winner of the Nichols Award is selected by an internal, anonymous jury panel.

That panel’s rationale says, in part, “Wolfe is a director, playwright, and producer whose career across stage and screen has continually transformed and pushed the boundaries of American culture. Wolfe endows his work with a deep historiography, investigating past legacies while urging us to imagine more inclusive futures.

“From his stagings of the theatrical canon to contemporary masterworks, Wolfe is meticulous in revealing authentic humanity.”

A tribute introduced by actor Michael Potts is planned for Thursday evening’s event.

PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature ($50,000)

  • Anne Carson

Anne Carson

This award is given annually to “a living author whose body of work—either written in or translated into English—represents the highest level of achievement in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama, and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship.

“The writer’s work will evoke to some measure Nabokov’s brilliant versatility and commitment to literature as a search for the deepest truth and highest pleasure—what Nabokov called the ‘indescribable tingle of the spine.’”

Jurors: Lily Hoang, Jhumpa Lahiri, Neel Mukherjee, Elif Shafak, Justin Torres

The jurors’ citation in this case refers to Canada’s Carson as sui generis and reads:

“For crossing boundaries again and again.
“For her rejection, interrogation, and redefinition of inherited forms and genres.
“For her uncanny weaving of the classical and the avant-garde.
“For her transformative translations.
“For startling us.
“For her heterodoxy, hybridity, and hilarity.
“For her gravity and her wit.
“For her playful erudition.
“For returning us to the queer affective resonances of antiquity.
“For making the unimaginable duet of philology and grief sing.
“Because she is poikilos, ‘scintillat[ing] with change and ambiguity.'”

PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award ($10,000)

  • Daniel Alexander Jones

Daniel Alexander Jones

This award is annually given to “an American playwright with an outstanding voice, and working indisputably at the highest level of achievement. Recognizes excellence in American theater and the playwright’s literary accomplishments, apparent in the rich and striking language of their work.”

Jurors: Jeremy O. Harris, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leigh Silverman

In their rationale, those jurors write, in part, “Daniel Alexander Jones is a multidisciplinary artist whose consummate talents have taken the work he has done primarily as his alter ego Jomama Jones from theaters in Soho to concert halls in Europe.

“In a time when conservatism, queerphobia, and anti-Blackness moved not only through our country but also throughout our industry, Jones has continued perfecting a dramaturgy all his own based in the traditions of Africana studies, performance studies, queer theory, and mysticism, challenging established traditions while creating space for audiences to ponder what theater is and who it is for.”

PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing ($2,500)

Kwame Dawes

This recognition honors “a magazine editor whose high literary standards and taste have, throughout their career, contributed significantly to the excellence of the publication they edit.”

Jurors: Patrick Cottrell, Carmen Giménez Smith, John Jeremiah Sullivan

The jurors write, “Born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, Kwame Dawes serves as the Glenna Luschei editor of the journal Prairie Schooner and is an editor for the African Poetry Book Series at the University of Nebraska, where he serves as the chancellor’s professor of English.

“Dawes is an active literary advocate for literature around the world: he cofounded and serves as the artistic director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place in Jamaica. Dawes has also worked as an HIV/AIDS advocate in this country and in Jamaica, and is the author of several books of poetry.

“A bold and visionary editor, he has both proved the ongoing validity of the literary journal and taken it to new places. Prairie Schooner, constantly demonstrates excellence and innovationFor a decade it has consistently published work that is rigorous, aesthetically diverse, and compelling. Nine years ago, Dawes oversaw an expansion into podcasts, with Air Schooner.”

PEN/Manheim Award for Translation ($1,000)

  • Pierre Joris

Pierre Joris

The Manheim is awarded only every three years “to a translator whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of her or his work.

“The prize will recognize and support the longevity of the translator’s career.”

The winner of this one is selected by a subcommittee of the PEN America translation committee.

About Joris’ work, they write, in part, “In a landscape of literary translation that is still beholden to linguistic and national silos, Pierre Joris’ work has long been and remains essential in mapping currents and countercurrents of global modernity.

“As literary translation struggles to confront imperial histories of violence and erasure, and to engage with and encourage voices of cultural and linguistic differences, Joris has blazed a path for generations of emerging translators to follow. Having spent over half a century moving between Europe, the United States, and North Africa, and working across multiple languages, Joris has built a stunning and unparalleled career as a translator, poet, essayist, editor, critic, performer, and academic.

“Indeed, Joris’ personal trajectory has fueled his articulation of a ‘nomad poetics’ that cannot be contained by national or linguistic boundaries, one in which Anglo-European perspectives are enriched and complicated by those of the Global South, and where translation models the potentialities and necessary complexities of cross-cultural contact.”

Marchant: ‘Refusing Simple Answers’

PEN’s Jane Marchant, who directs the organization’s rather complex round of awards and honors, is quoted in a prepared statement, saying, “These writers ask complex questions and refuse simple answers; through language they confront preconceived patterns, ideas, and notions, and challenge the world and its people to be better.

“They transcend barriers, languages, and cultures, and pointedly address urgent topics for conversation. They are bright lights, guiding us in directions we must follow.”

Here is information about seeing Thursday evening’s event (free, with a suggested donation).


More from Publishing Perspectives on PEN America is here. And more on publishing and literary awards is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.