Announcing the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards Career Achievement Winners
The PEN America Literary Awards Program is honored to announce the 2023 career achievement award winners. This year’s honorees are Tina Fey, Vinod Kumar Shukla, and Erika Dickerson-Despenza.
These career achievement honorees reveal the breadth of what human imagination committed to the page, stage, and screen can offer us. With their inimitable and instantaneously recognizable styles—Shukla’s pairing of keen directness and wonder, Dickerson-Despenza’s collision of lyricism and urgency, Fey’s comedic sensitivity in an absurd world—they bring us into their distinct visions of reality, in all its slipperiness.
You can learn more about the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards judges here.
The 2023 career achievement awards will be celebrated at the 2023 Literary Awards Ceremony, held on March 2 at 8pm ET at The Town Hall in New York City.
PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature ($50,000)
Conferred 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.”
Judges: Judges: Amit Chaudhuri, Roya Hakakian, Maaza Mengiste
Winner: Vinod Kumar Shukla is the celebrated author of novels, poetry, and short stories in Hindi and in translation. He has been awarded the Sahitya Akademi award (from India’s national academy of letters), the Atta Galatta–Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize, and Mathrubhumi Book of the Year award, among others.
Shukla’s work is lauded for its distinctive linguistic texture and emotional depth. His singular literary style often breaks with convention, earning comparisons to magical realism that only partly capture his striking originality. Renowned for bringing the marvelous to the ordinary, in his intimate evocations of rural and small-town life and his interrogation of modern aspirations Shukla offers readers something universal.
Vinod Kumar Shukla’s celebrated works include the novels A Window Lived in the Wall and A Silent Place, and the short story collection Blue Is Like Blue. At 87, Shukla is constantly engaged in creation. A new translation of his poems is forthcoming in the USA from Circumference Books.
PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award ($25,000)
Honoring 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 is selected by an internal panel of anonymous judges.
Winner: Tina Fey is an award-winning writer, actress, and producer. Fey continues to be celebrated for inhabiting the iconic ‘Liz Lemon’ from the 16-time Emmy nominated series 30 Rock, which she co-wrote and co-executive produced, and for her roles on Saturday Night Live. She has continued to work on hit shows such as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Great News, Mr. Mayor, and Girls5eva, and had memorable roles in Modern Love and Only Murders in the Building with Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez. In 2011, Fey’s first book, Bossypants, topped the New York Times bestseller list and received a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. Currently, she is developing the big screen, musical adaptation of her cult classic film and Tony-nominated Broadway show Mean Girls: The Musical.
PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award ($10,000)
Conferred annually 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.
Judges: Luis Alfaro and Saheem Ali
Winner: Erika Dickerson-Despenza is a New Orleans-based Blk radical leftist writer and ecowomanist cultural-memory worker. She is the creator and inaugural resident of The Ntozake Shange Social Justice Playwriting Residency, which supports distinguished women, femme, and non-binary scholar-playwrights of the African Diaspora for two-year terms. Her work includes shadow/land (The Public Theater, 2023), cullud wattah (The Public Theater, 2021), and [hieroglyph] (San Francisco Playhouse/Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 2021). Currently, Erika is developing a 10-play Katrina Cycle, which centers climate crisis-induced and state-sanctioned water vulnerabilities and displacement rippling in and beyond New Orleans and the Midwest, a Disney musical adaptation of a New York Times #1 bestselling YA novel and an original feature film with Mattel.