The book world came together to celebrate groundbreaking new literature on Tuesday night at the 2018 PEN America Literary Awards.

The ceremony, hosted annually by PEN America, honors authors who have made significant contributions to the literary world and celebrates books published in fiction and a wide array of non-fiction, including sports writing, science writing, essays, and more.

As writers from all over the globe convened to discuss books, there was an orange-tinted elephant dominating the room: Donald Trump and the effect his presidency has had on free speech in America.

“It’s honestly a weird time to be protecting free expression,” Sally Kohn — author of the upcoming book The Opposite of Hate, commentator, and host of last night’s award ceremony — mused at the top of the show. “Free speech is so free we have fake speech now, right?”

Kohn’s comments were largely played for humor. She also later poked fun of Ivanka.

“There are so many incredible, important authors who graced us with their ideas and words this year. I mean, brilliant, visionary, inspiring writers. Of course, I’m talking about Ivanka.”

Kohn wasn’t the only one to allude to Trump during the ceremony. Several authors had statements that responded directly to political news coming out of the White House.

While accepting her award for the PEN/Ralph Mannheim Medal for Translation, prolific translator Barbara Harshav spoke out, explaining, “The task of the translator today is something else. At a time when politicians are building walls, the task of the translator is to tear them down, to bring us together, to make being foreign not strange, so that we may all recognize our humanity through literature.” The line was a notable jab at Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

Likewise, when Vice President and Editorial Director of Global Digital Content for ESPN, Patrick Steigman, came on stage to present the awards for sports writing, he noted, “Sports reflect change in American society, through our triumphs and our failure. Sports can be art, and . . . throughout the history of the games we play, athletes have broken barriers in the arenas of race, religion, and politics.”

Jonathan Eig, who won the award for Literary Sports writing, echoed that sentiment in a written acceptance statement provided to PEN: “Some people, including the man in the White House, are not used to black athletes using their minds and using their muscle to push for change. Some people are still not used to Muslims as Americans. Some people are not used to the notion that protest is actually an act of patriotism.”

The comments directly support Colin Kaepernick’s NFL protests — and strike back at opinions like those of conservative Fox news host Laura Ingraham, who recently said that Lebron James should stop talking politics, and “shut up and dribble.” LeBron later responded with a series of Instagram photos which he captioned: “I know my purpose and its damn sure bigger than just dribbling a basketball” and “#wewillnotshutupanddribble.”

But ultimately, Kohn said, the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony convened to honor great writing.

“We’re all keenly aware of the power words have to shape our world,” she said. “Words have power: The power for good or its opposite, the power for connection or its opposite, the power for kindness or its opposite. And tonight, we’re going to honor words that change the world.”

And world-changing words they were. At the ceremony, poet Layli Long Soldier won the esteemed PEN/Jean Stein Book Award (along with its $75,000), beating out Ta-Nehisi Coates and his collection We Were Eight Years in Power. In her speech, Soldier explained, “When I wrote WHEREAS, it was the moment to say that it’s okay for us to have boundaries, it’s okay to have respect, it’s okay to hear parts of the history you have not heard before.”

Other notable winners included Jenny Zhang for her story collection Sour Heart and the late Ursula K. Le Guin for her essay collection No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters.

Check out the complete list of winners below.

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award


Layli Long Soldier

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction

Sour Heart

Jenny Zhang

PEN Open Book Award

A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men fighting Extremism in Africa

Alexis Okeowo

PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Prize for Paraguayan Literature


Javier Viveros

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters

Ursula K. Le Guin

PEN Translation Prize

Katalin Street

Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

Richard Nixon: The Life

John A. Farrell

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

Lindsey Fitzharris

PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports

Ali: A Life

Jonathan Eig

In addition to honoring individual books, PEN also celebrated writers for their overall careers, giving grants to emerging writers and handing out several lifetime achievement awards. Check out some of the additional awards below.

PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction

Edmund White

PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers

Elinam Agbo

Lauren Friedlander

Cristina Fires

Lin King

Drew McCutcheon

Celeste Mohammaed

Grayson Morely

Maud Streep

Alex Terrell

Ava Tomasula Y Garcia

Megan Tucker

Ernie Wang

PEN/Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History
Nyssa Chow, Still.Life.

PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship
Vicky Shiefman

PEN/Ralph Mannheim Medal for Translation
Barbara Harshav

PEN/Laura Pens International Foundation for Theater Arts Awards

Emerging American Playwright: Mike Lew

American Playwright in Mid-Career: Sibyl Kempson

Master American Dramatist: Luis Alfaro

PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry
Kamau Brathwaite

PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing
Dave Kindred

PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature
Edna O’Brien

PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants

Janine Beichman for her translation of The Essential Yosano Akiko: The Ripening Years

Alexander Dickow, for his translation of Neverending Quest for the Other Shore: An Epic in Three Cantos by Sylvie Kandé.

Emily Drumsta for her translation of Revolt Against the Sun by Nazik al-Malaika

Lindy Falk van Rooyen for her translation of Hope by Mich Vraa.

Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton for their translation of One Left by Sum Kim

Michael Gluck, for his translation of Matisse by Alexander Ilichevsky

Mariam Rahmani for her translation of Don’t Worry by Mahsa Mohebali

Aaron Robertson for his translation Beyond Babylon by Igiaba Scego

Julia Sanches for her translation of Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández

Jamie Lee Searle for her translation of Winter’s Garden by Valerie Fritsch

Brian Sneeden for his translation of Rhapsodia by Phoebe Giannisi

Ri J. Turner for her translation of Chaim Gravitzer by Fischel Schneerson

The PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature
Jeanne Bonner for her translation of A Walk in the Shadows by Mariateresa Di Lascia