Beverly Hills, CA (October 10, 2019) – PEN America is pleased to announce that it will recognize two of this year’s most critically acclaimed works at its 2019 LitFest Gala. Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, screenwriters of “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” will receive the Award for Screenplay Excellence. The writing and creative team behind Netflix’s series “Unbelievable” –Showrunner/Writer/Director/Executive Producer Susannah Grant, Writer/Executive Producer Michael Chabon, Writer/Executive Producer Ayelet Waldman, and Executive Producer Sarah Timberman (on behalf of Timberman-Beverly Productions) – will receive the Award for Television Excellence.

In what is expected to be an incredibly poignant moment during the ceremony, actor, author, and reading and education advocate LeVar Burton will deliver a tribute to the legendary Toni Morrison. Morrison, a long-time PEN America member, 1993 Nobel Prize winner, 2008 PEN/Literary Service Award winner, and 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow Award winner, will be recognized for her unparalleled contributions to literature, culture, and the impact that her work will have for generations to come.  The gala dinner will take place on November 1, 2019, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel

As previously announced, filmmaker Ava DuVernay will receive the Voice of Influence Award, songwriter Diane Warren will receive the Artistic Expression Award, and attorney Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. will receive the PEN America Distinguished Leadership Award. The 2019 LitFest Gala will take place on November 1 at the Beverly Wilshire.

Neel Patel, Charles Yu, Lynne Thompson, Alex Espinoza, Julissa Arce, Edan Lepucki, Michelle Tea, Susan Straight, Jean Guerrero, Kim Masters, Stephanie Danler, Randa Jarrar, Larissa FastHorse, Nina Revoyr, Robin Coste Lewis, and PEN America President Jennifer Egan will serve as the 2019 Literary Hosts.

“We are so grateful that we have the opportunity to recognize such tremendous talent at this year’s LitFest Gala, champions of free expression who have inspired and created some of the year’s most memorable shows, films, songs, and news stories. We know it is going to be an unforgettable night,” said Michelle Franke, executive director of PEN America’s Los Angeles office. “We also recognize that we are indebted to those who paved the way for us, and are looking forward to honoring the life and work of Toni Morrison.”

Now in its 29th year, PEN America’s LitFest Gala is a celebration of free expression and the literary arts. Featuring impassioned tributes, conversation, and levity, the event brings together an esteemed audience of authors, screenwriters, producers, showrunners, executives, philanthropists, actors, and devotees of the written word who share a commitment to defending creative freedom and expression in Los Angeles and around the world. Money raised from the Gala fuels advocacy for writers, journalists, and artists threatened or imprisoned worldwide; landmark research addressing critical free speech issues; and the advancement of literary excellence and cross-cultural exchanges, including the World Voices Festival of International Literature, PEN America’s Literary Awards, and fellowship and grants programs. Recently honored luminaries and participants include Ai Weiwei, Marti Noxon & Gillian Flynn, Barry Jenkins, Roxane Gay, Isabel Allende, Jose Antonio Vargas, Margaret Atwood, Janet Mock, Norman Lear, Guillermo del Toro, Amber Tamblyn, Aisha Tyler, Amy Poehler, and Cecile Richards.

Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster are Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated writers and producers who spent four seasons working on the critically-acclaimed Amazon series, TRANSPARENT. Their highly-anticipated Mr. Rogers film, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, directed by Marielle Heller and starring Tom Hanks for TriStar Pictures will be released on November 22, 2019. This project originated when Micah and Noah optioned the story and their script landed on the prestigious Black List. The pair also serve as the co-writers of Disney’s upcoming MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL, starring Angelina Jolie, and the film adaptation of Jess Walter’s novel Beautiful Ruins for Amblin, with Sam Mendes producing. They are currently adapting Dash Shaw’s graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button, for their feature directorial debut. 
Through Blue Harp, the production company they run with executive Karolina Peysakhov, they’ve begun to build out an impressive slate of projects in film and television at FX, Netflix, Amazon, Vice, Syfy, Lionsgate, and Bow and Arrow. Most recently, they signed a first-look deal with SHOWTIME. 

Noah is also an actor, known mostly for playing Remy in Tig Notaro’s ONE MISSISSIPPI. He is currently starring in the new Apple series, FOR ALL MANKIND.

 Susannah Grant is an Academy Award®-nominated writer, producer and director whose resume includes film, television and streaming platforms. In features, Grant is perhaps best known for writing the screenplay for the award-winning drama “Erin Brockovich,” which earned her an Academy Award® nomination, a BAFTA nomination and a WGA nomination. Additional feature credits include screenplays for “The Soloist,” “In Her Shoes,” “28 Days,” “Ever After,” “Pocahontas,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “The 5th Wave.” Additionally in 2007, Grant wrote and directed “Catch and Release.”

Her television credits include writing and executive producing HBO’s “Confirmation” starring Kerry Washington, which earned Grant an Emmy nomination, a WGA award, and the WGA’s Paul Selvin Award. Prior to that, Grant created and executive produced the CBS series “A Gifted Man” and worked as a producer and writer of the Fox series “Party of Five,” which earned a Golden Globe Award and a Humanitas Prize.

Grant serves as executive producer, showrunner, writer and director for Netflix’s 8-episode limited series, “Unbelievable.” Inspired by the real events in the Marshall Project and ProPublica Pulitzer-winning 2015 article “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” and the This American Life episode “Anatomy of Doubt,” the show revolves around Marie Adler, who files a police report claiming she’s been sexually assaulted by an intruder in her home. The investigating detectives, as well as the people closest to her, come to doubt the truth of her story. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, detectives Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall meet while investigating an eerily similar pair of intruder rapes and partner to catch a potential serial rapist.

 Michael Chabon is the author of numerous novels, among them Moonglow and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He is the co-editor of Kingdom of Olives & and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation and of the forthcoming Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of novels including Love & and Treasure, works of nonfiction including A Really Good Day, and the co-editor of Kingdom of Olives & and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons and the forthcoming Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases.

 Sarah Timberman and her Timberman/Beverly Productions partner, Carl Beverly, recently finished production on the Netflix limited series, “Unbelievable” (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Marshall Project/ProPublica article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”), as well as the the seventh season of their long-running CBS series, “Elementary,” the fourth season of the critically acclaimed Showtime series, “Masters of Sex” (based on Tom Maier’s biography of noted sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson), and the sixth and final season of the award-winning FX series, “Justified” (based on Elmore Leonard’s “Fire in the Hole”). Timberman-Beverly’s other credits include CBS’ “SEAL Team,” “The, Code,” “Unforgettable,” “The Odd Couple, “A Gifted Man” and “Doubt,” as well as the NBC series, “Kidnapped.” Timberman/Beverly are also currently in pre-production on “The Man Who Fell to Earth” for CBS All Access, based on the Walter Tevis novel and the Nicolas Roeg/David Bowie film.

Prior to starting the company, Timberman served as President, Universal Network Television. She oversaw all comedy, drama, long-form and reality programming for the company, including the “Law and Order” franchise and the series, “American Dreams,” and played a key role in acquiring the rights to the British series, “The Office” for NBC. Timberman joined Universal from Columbia TriStar Television, where she served as Executive Vice President, Drama Development. Some of the series she oversaw included “Dawson’s Creek” and “Party of Five.”

LeVar Burton launched his acting career while still a student at the University of Southern California. Cast in the groundbreaking role of Kunta Kinte in the landmark television series “Roots,” at 19 he found himself on the cover of Time Magazine. A seemingly impossible act to follow, Burton managed to do so in dramatic fashion, achieving further global acclaim as Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge in the iconic “Star Trek: The Next Generation” television series and in feature films.

However, it has been his role as host and executive producer of the beloved PBS children’s series “Reading Rainbow” of which he is most proud. Airing from 1983 to 2009, it was not only one of the longest running children’s television shows in history, but also one of the most acclaimed, earning over 200 awards including multiple Emmys and a Peabody. Always committed to improving children’s education through innovative uses of storytelling, in 2012 Burton launched RRKidz, a digital educational publishing company. In a deal that ended in August, 2017 his company held the global rights to the Reading Rainbow brand through a partnership with series creator, WNED/Buffalo. That partnership resulted in a successful relaunch of the Reading Rainbow brand for a new generation of children. SKYBRARY is a digital reading service filled with over 500 children’s fiction and non-fiction books, more than 150 newly-produced video field trips and new content added every week. With over 16 million books and videos enjoyed since launch, SKYBRARY is a top selling educational app on iTunes and recipient of numerous awards. In 2014 Burton turned to Kickstarter to bring Reading Rainbow to “Every Child, Everywhere” — especially to classrooms in need. The campaign met its 35-day goal of raising $1 million in less than eleven hours, and set a crowdfunding record at the time with over 105,000 backers and a final tally of over $6.4 million. With these funds, in May, 2015 Burton and RRKidz brought the SKYBRARY product to the web, accessible to 83% of American households. Then in January, 2016, the education-specific, SKYBRARY SCHOOL rolled out for teachers and students, fulfilling the promise of the crowd-funding project. Now in his fourth decade in the industry, LeVar continues to exercise his vigorous passion for storytelling with his new podcast LEVAR BURTON READS, where each episode he chooses a favorite piece of short fiction and performs it. The enormously successful podcast is in its third season and LeVar is currently touring the country with a live version of the podcast. LEVAR BURTON READS: LIVE! is coming to a theater near you. As the honored recipient of 13 Emmy Awards, a Grammy, and five NAACP Awards, Burton has demonstrated in his career that he can do it all — acting, directing, producing, writing and speaking. He is often invited as a keynote speaker at leading education and technology events, most recently speaking at NASA, ISTE, The National Education Association, FAST COMPANY’s Innovation Series and many more. With millions of fans throughout the world, Burton continues his mission to inspire, educate and entertain.

On June 11, 2019, LeVar Burton joined Local Leaders in South Sacramento’s Meadowview neighborhood where he grew up. City leaders honored LeVar Burton with the Official Renaming and Dedication of Richfield Park to LEVAR BURTON PARK. Together they hope the move will inspire future aim for successful, prosperous, and fulfilling life. On November 20, 2019, LeVar will serve as master of ceremonies for the 2019 National Book Awards at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.


 PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

 For more information on the PEN America’s 2019 LitFest Gala, please visit


Elyse Weissman


Stephen Fee

PEN America, Director of Communications

Tracey Kardash

PEN America, Deputy Director of Development