PEN America Literary Awards PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award

Each year, the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award confers upon an American playwright in mid-career, with an outstanding voice working indisputably at the highest level of achievement, a $10,000 cash prize. The award was developed to reflect Laura Pels’s dedication to supporting excellence in American theater, as well as PEN America’s commitment to recognizing and rewarding the playwright’s literary accomplishments.

2024 Winner: Guadalís Del Carmen

Judges: Lisa McNulty, Jacob Padrón

From the judges’ citation: “Where activism meets artistry, the writings of Guadalís Del Carmen, are expanding how we center and celebrate the Latinx diaspora at theaters across the country. Trained as an actor in Chicago, she puts real people on stage who fight for love, forgiveness, and belonging. Her Dominican community inspires all her stories and we feel the careful attention she pays to reflecting the complexities of the human condition. From her celebrated Off-Broadway debut with her play Bees & Honey to the new work she is currently developing through commissions and residencies, Guadalís has become a powerful and essential voice in the new American theater. For her vivid imagination, lyrical prose, and heartbreaking characters, the judges awarded this year’s PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award to Guadalís Del Carmen.”


Previous Winners

2023 Erika Dickerson-Despenza

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.

2022 Jackie Sibblies Drury

From the judges’ citation:

“Jackie Sibblies Drury is an artist who gives voice to the voiceless, exploring freshly investigated worlds from the inside out so that they become part of the natural landscape of the theater. With courage, steadfastness, and thoughtfulness, she shifts the theater panorama to encompass new vistas of race, class, and exploded perspective into what traditionally have been rigid environments.”

2021 Daniel Alexander Jones

2020 Tanya Barfield

2019 Larissa FastHorse

2018 Sibyl Kempson

2017 Tarell Alvin McCraney

2016 Young Jean Lee

2015 Anne Washburn

2014 Donald Marguiles

2013 Kirsten Greenidge

2012 Will Eno and Adam Rapp

2011 Marcus Gardley

2010 Theresa Rebeck

2009 Nilo Cruz

2008 Sarah Ruhl

2007 Naomi Iizuka

2006 Stephen Adly Guirgis

2005 Dael Orlandersmith

2004 Lynn Nottage

2003 Craig Lucas

2002 Tony Kushner

2001 Charles Mee, Jr.

2000 Suzan-Lori Parks

1999 Paula Vogel

1998 Richard Greenberg