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.

Nominations for the 2022 cycle will be open June 1–August 1, 2021.

2021 Honoree: Daniel Alexander Jones

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

From the judges’ citation: “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 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. Like in Jones’s three-part memoir/pageant Duat, wherein he takes the audience on a journey from his childhood library to a spiritual rumination on the afterlife, we might end up combining the artist’s dramaturgical understanding of mysticism with his other significant contribution to the field: pedagogy. It feels significant to articulate that a significant aspect of Jones’s practice is in teaching students solo performance and drama. In this time of intense change in our industry, it feels especially momentous to celebrate an artist with such a holistic and hybridinal approach to the work of ‘playwriting.’”

Daniel Alexander Jones headshot


Previous Winners

Tanya Barfield2020 Tanya Barfield

From the judges’ citation: “Tanya Barfield is a dramatist whose art wrestles with nothing less than the human heart at war with the human condition. With a unique emotional vividness and political nuance, her body of work to date explores the complications of lives lived on the margins of belonging—or between so-called ‘identities.’ Her characters are often seekers—of safety, of family, of wholeness through human connection—haunted and hamstrung by histories, both national and individual, of alienation and dispossession. Whether it’s the black tenured math professor in Blue Door (2007) coming to terms with the literal haunting of his ancestors, or the couple attempting to adopt an African child battling the specters of their own white privilege in The Call (2013), or the intersectional lovers in Bright Half Life (2014) possessed by the spirits of their younger selves in a newfound era of marriage equality, Barfield’s worlds are full of ghosts, and it is only through a confrontation with them that the living truly learn what it is to live. Her consistent ability to map this truth out for us again and again—and with such technical rigor and formal inventiveness—makes her one of the most powerful and compelling playwrights writing today. The judges are convinced even greater work is still on the horizon, and we are privileged to witness the further unfolding of this oeuvre in the years to come.”

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

Selection Process

Nominations for this award are solicited from Professional Members of PEN America, as well as any playwright, writer, or member of the theater community. Each year’s judging panel takes these nominations into consideration, and all nominations may be supplemented by nominations from the judges themselves.

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