PEN America Literary Award Winners: India’s Vinod Kumar Shukla Honored

In News by Porter Anderson

The annual PEN America Literary Awards this year have included three career-achievement awards and 11 book awards.

Kal Penn onstage at New York City’s Town Hall in the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards. Image: PEN America, Beowulf Sheehan

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

More Than US$350,000 in Prize Money
In its 2023 Literary Awards program on Thursday night in New York City (March 2), the Hindi author Vinod Kumar Shukla has been honored with a career-achievement award, as has the playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza.

In addition, the roster of 11 PEN book-award winners were presented in the Town Hall ceremony, the total purse for the program’s overall recognitions coming to more than US$350,000. The lead award is the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein award, which went to Percival Everett for Dr. No (Graywolf Press, 2022).

Hosting the program, comedian Tina Fey and the former Obama White House aide Kal Penn served as masters of ceremony in the event, the recording of which is embedded below.

Fey, herself, is a third career-achievement winner in the program, the recipient of the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, which carries a cash prize of $25,000. The Nichols award goes to “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 PEN/Mike Nichols is selected by an internal panel of anonymous judges.

The career-achievement award given to Vinod Kumar Shukla is the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. With a purse of $50,000, this honor 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.”

Juried by Amit Chaudhuri, Roya Hakakian, and Maaza Mengiste, the prize citation notes that a new translation of Shukla’s poems is anticipated in the United States’ market, from Circumference Books.

And the third career-achievement honor, the one going to playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza, is the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, an honor that carries $10,000. This is an annual recognition that goes “to an American playwright with an outstanding voice, and working indisputably at the highest level of achievement. [It] recognizes excellence in American theater and the playwright’s literary accomplishments, apparent in the rich and striking language of their work”

Jurors Luis Alfaro and Saheem Ali chose the New Orleans “radical leftist” writer in acknowledgement of work that includes shadow/land (Public Theater, 2023), cullud wattah (Public Theater, 2021), and [hieroglyph] (San Francisco Playhouse/Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 2021).

PEN America Book Award Winners 2023
  • PEN/Jean Stein Award: Percival Everett, Dr. No.
  • PEN Open Book Award: Hafizah Augustus Geter, The Black Period
  • PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a Debut Short Story Collection: Moran Talty, Night of the Living Rez 
  • PEN/Hemingway Award for a Debut Novel: Oscar Hokeah, Calling for a Blanket Dance
  • PEN/Voelcker Award for a Poetry Collection, Robin Coste Lewis, To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness
  • PEN Award for Poetry in a Translation: Daniel Borzutzky, for his translation of Paula Ilabaca Nuñez’s The Loose Pearl
  • PEN Translation Prize: Tiffany Tsao, for her translation of Budi Darma’s People from Bloomington
  • PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay: Judith Thurman, A Left Handed Woman
  • PEN/EO Wilson Literary Science Writing Award: Florence Williams, Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey
  • PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography: Dan Charnas, Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm
  • PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction: Eve Fairbanks, The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards program has honored voices in fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, biography, children’s literature, translation, drama, and more.

More from Publishing Perspectives on PEN America is here, more on PEN International is here, more on the PEN America Literary Awards is here, more on translation and translators is here, and more on international publishing and literary awards 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.