(New York, NY) — PEN America today announces writer Zadie Smith as recipient of the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award, to be conferred to her at the 2022 PEN America Literary Gala. The award recognizes Smith’s remarkable achievements as a novelist, short story writer, and essayist whose work displays unparalleled attention to craft and humane ideals. The gala, at once celebratory in spirit and urgent in aim, supports PEN America’s cultural programming and crucial advocacy work for free expression worldwide. Held in-person beneath the blue whale in the American Museum of Natural History’s majestic Hall of Ocean Life, the event convenes writers, humanitarians, thinkers, and other luminaries on May 23.

The PEN/Audible Literary Service Award honors an important writer whose work has drawn a wide audience and who helps us understand the human condition in original and powerful ways. Through her trenchant, moving, and inventive writing—which includes novels White Teeth, Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, Swing Time, short story (Grand Union: Stories) and essay (Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, Feel Free, and Intimations) collections, frequent critical work in Harper’s Magazine and New York Review of Books, and more—and professorship, Smith has helped guide future generations of writers and readers to embrace and explore culture across genres and media.

Smith’s fiction meticulously charts characters’ social surroundings and entangled if disparate existences, offering deep insight into their circumstances. She questions and pushes against imposed boundaries of race and class, creating space for important conversations. In her nuanced criticism, Smith probes discursive trends and orthodoxies, propelling herself and her readers towards more expansive worldviews. She joins an illustrious list of previous Literary Service Award winners, including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Patti Smith, Bob Woodward, Stephen Sondheim, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood.

PEN America President Ayad Akhtar says, “Zadie Smith’s impact cannot be understated. She is not just one of contemporary fiction’s most groundbreaking voices, but also amongst our most insightful critical minds. Her considerable influence only seems to grow ever more far-reaching with time. Dexterously marrying stylistic experimentation with vivid social exploration and affecting character study, Smith’s willingness to challenge herself and her readers makes her work utterly vital, necessary—and fundamentally aligned with PEN America’s mission to reach across the realm of what’s expected and accepted, towards complex truths. We are honored to recognize her with this award.”

PEN America’s 2022 Literary Gala, which also recognizes Audible Founder and Executive Chairman Don Katz as Business Visionary Honoree, will begin with a VIP reception at 6pm, followed by a cocktail reception at 6:30pm, and dinner and awards at 7:30pm. PEN America will announce the evening’s host and the recipients of the 2022 PEN/Benenson Courage Award and the 2022 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award in the weeks ahead.

About Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith was born in North-West London in 1975 and holds a degree in English Literature from the University of Cambridge. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has twice been listed as one of Granta’s 20 Best Young British Novelists. Her first novel, White Teeth, was the winner of The Whitbread First Novel Award, The Guardian First Book Award, The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, and The Commonwealth Writers’ First Book Award. Her second novel, The Autograph Man, won The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize. Zadie Smith’s third novel, On Beauty, won the Orange Prize for Fiction, The Commonwealth Writers’ Best Book Award (Eurasia Section) and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her fourth novel, NW, was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her most recent novel, Swing Time, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and longlisted for the Man Booker 2017. She published her first essay collection, Changing My Mind, in 2009 and her second essay collection, Feel Free, in 2018. Her first short story collection, Grand Union, was published in 2019. In 2020 she published a short essay collection, Intimations. In 2021 Zadie Smith and Nick Laird published their first children’s picture book, Weirdo, illustrated by Magenta Fox. Zadie Smith writes regularly for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and is a tenured professor of Creative Writing at New York University (NYU). She lives in London.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

About Audible, Inc.

Audible, Inc., an Amazon.com, Inc. subsidiary (NASDAQ:AMZN), is the leading creator and provider of premium audio storytelling, offering customers a new way to enhance and enrich their lives every day. Audible content includes more than 700,000 audio programs from leading audiobook publishers, broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers, and business information providers.

Press Contacts

For more information, please contact Blake Zidell or Adriana Leshko at Blake Zidell & Associates, 917.572.2493, blake@blakezidell.com or adriana@blakezidell.com