The PEN America Literary Service Award, previously known as the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award and the PEN/Borders Literary Service Award, honors an important writer whose critically acclaimed work has drawn a wide audience and who helps us to understand the human condition in original and powerful ways. The award is granted after consultations among PEN America staff and Trustees with specific relevant expertise on matters of literature and  freedom of expression. In some cases, outside expertise from PEN America’s Membership, partner organizations, and network of contacts is enlisted to inform internal analysis and deliberations. All final decisions regarding award determination and recipients are made by the Executive Committee of the PEN America Board of Trustees.


2018 PEN America Literary Service Award

Stephen King is the author of more than 50 books, all of them worldwide best sellers and many—including such classics as It, The Stand, The Dark Tower, Misery, Lisey’s Story, 11/22/63, On Writing, Under the Dome, and many more—providing the basis for major motion pictures and serving as cultural hallmarks for generations. Among his many accolades are the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the 2014 National Medal of Arts presented by Barack Obama. His depictions of horror and violence have also earned him a title as one of the most banned or challenged authors in recent decades. King is an impassioned advocate of freedom of expression, literacy, and access to information, which he and his wife Tabitha support through their philanthropy. King’s Haven Foundation also provides unique and generous support to writers and other freelancers in the arts who have suffered personal hardship. His outspoken defense against encroachments on free speech and pointed public criticism of policies that infringe on this and other rights have resulted in his being blocked by President Trump on Twitter.

2017 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award

Stephen Sondheim has delighted audiences worldwide for more than six decades with witty lyrics, contagious melodies, and unforgettable characters that comprise some of America’s most beloved and timeless musicals. Paying forward the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein II that catalyzed his successful career, Sondheim dedicates much of his time to nurturing young writers and composers. In 1981, he also founded Young Playwrights Inc., the only organization of its kind committed to the development of aspiring playwrights under age 18.

2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award 

J.K. Rowling has used her talents and stature as a writer to fight inequality on both a local and global level. Herself the frequent object of censorship in schools and libraries across the globe, as well as online targeting, Rowling has emerged as a vocal proponent of free expression and access to literature and ideas for children, as well as incarcerated people, the learning-disabled, and women and girls worldwide.

2015 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award 

Tom Stoppard’s extraordinary career as a dramatist and his abiding commitment to the defense of creative freedom worldwide won him the 2015 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award. Stoppard’s critically acclaimed works have brought new and powerful perspectives on the human condition to wide audiences over a remarkably prolific decades-long career, exploring the social and political forces that shape individual identity.

2014 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award 

The award recognizes Rushdie’s unparalleled artistry and courage as a novelist and essayist, as well as his role in founding and building the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. The PEN World Voices Festival, the United States’ only international literary festival, has brought more than 1,500 writers from 78 countries speaking 56 different languages to New York since 2005, serving as a vital platform for cross-cultural dialogue involving authors, journalists, intellectuals, and thought leaders on issues central to individual rights and freedoms.

2013 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award 

Prolific writer and winner of a Pulitzer Prize, PEN/Faulkner award, amongst numerous accolades, Philip Roth has had a lifetime of literary endeavors and acomplishments. His own personal involvement in promoting freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and his advocacy work for Eastern European writers such as Milan Kundera and Ivan Kilma, has earned him the respect and admiration of writers and readers around the world. 

2012 PEN Literary Service Award 

Considered one of the greatest American modern playwrights and a successor to Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams, Pulitzer Prize-winning playright Edward Albee is recognized for his plays, which both combine the realistic with the surreal, as well as challenge the viewer to question social norms and the suffering such norms may bring. His critically acclaimed work illuminates the human condition in original and powerful ways. Albee is President of the Edward F. Albee Foundation, which provides fellowships and a quiet space, peaceful for writers and artists to work over the summer. 

2011 PEN Literary Service Award 

Michael Ondaatje’s prolific body of work spans the range of poetry, prose, film, and literary criticism, and touches at the heart of what it means to be human. His award-winning works have discussed the lives and politics of immigrant workers, the intricacies of war on the human psyche, familial relations, the location of oneself in time and space through the use of language, the influence of Sri Lanka in his own life, and so much more. Ondaatje is honored for his dedication to and promotion of literacy around the world.

2010 PEN Literary Service Award

Margaret Atwood is honored not only for her fine prose and award-winning books, but also for her dedication as an activist. Atwood has been outspoken about issues of social justice, supporting movements including anti-apartheid and gay rights. Her work addresses themes of political power and various forms of oppression, particularly the patriarchy. During her acceptance speech of this award, she said that oppressors “wish to silence the human voice, or all human voices that do not sing their songs.” Atwood serves as Vice-President of PEN International.

2009 PEN/Borders Literary Service Award

Doctorow is honored for his achievement in bringing the past and all its intricacies to readers in the present, as well as his fierce dedication to free expression and the end of censorship worldwide. His historical fiction has won Doctorow many awards, including the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, two PEN/Faulkner Awards, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal in 1998. His novels have been translated in over 30 languages and his career spanned over 50 years.

2008 PEN/Borders Literary Service Award

Toni Morrison’s body of work, comprising eight novels, drama, lyrics, and essays, challenges restrictive thinking about literature’s universality and produces irrefutable evidence that the history and culture of the United States is incomprehensible without the African-American experience. “Toni Morrison is a truly American writer, dealing frankly yet poetically in her work with the sweeping themes of identity, race, class, and gender in our society,” Borders Group CEO and President George Jones said. “Above all, it is her determination to expose the use of language for racist, sexist, and other manipulative ends that have made her the heroic writer she is today.”

2007 PEN/Borders Literary Service Award 

Gore Vidal’s lifelong commitment to democracy, justice, and reason, in addition to his brave, brilliant, and progressive written work, made him the first recipient of the PEN/Borders Literary Service Award. Vidal was a bestselling author known for his social and political commentary. He is honored for his courage and his commitment to speaking out, even when his words were controversial.