NEW YORK—Today PEN America, the writers’ organization for freedom of expression, announced the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, which will honor the year’s best writing for performance. The award aims to highlight transformative works that enlighten and inspire audiences in the tradition of venerated comedian and filmmaker Mike Nichols, who died in 2014. The inaugural PEN/Nichols Award will be conferred on playwright, screenwriter, and director Kenneth Lonergan. Lonergan will accept the award as part of the PEN America Literary Awards ceremony on February 26, 2019 at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Lonergan will receive the honorary PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award for his exemplary portfolio of work in 2018 including two Broadway stage productions that ran simultaneously: The Waverly Gallery, originally produced in 1999, which follows an aging leftist activist as she battles Alzheimer’s, and Lobby Hero, originally produced in 2002, which chronicles the story of personal ambitions amid a murder mystery.

The PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award will be presented annually to honor the enduring legacy of playwright, screenwriter, and director Mike Nichols and his decades-long career spanning comedy, drama, stage, and film. Nichols’ illustrious body of work spanned an extraordinary array of performance genres—from his early improv comedy with Elaine May, to directing groundbreaking Broadway hits including Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, to a career of immense influence and acclaim in film. An actor’s director, he brought to life some of the most memorable film performances in Hollywood history, including Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Meryl Streep and Cher in Silkwood. Nichols is one of only 15 people to earn the highly coveted EGOT—the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. He is survived by his wife, ABC News’ veteran anchor Diane Sawyer, and three children.

The honorary PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, with a prize of $25,000, assumes a unique place of prominence within PEN America’s preeminent national literary awards program. In 2018, PEN America deepened its ties to the worlds of film and television through the addition of a substantial Los Angeles-based membership, program and office. The PEN America Literary Awards are the most comprehensive in the nation, recognizing achievements by master and emerging talents in genres including playwriting, fiction, non-fiction, biography poetry, international literature, and literature in translation.

Lonergan, a native New Yorker, is best known for co-writing Gangs of New York (2002), and for writing and directing You Can Count On Me (2000), Margaret (2011), and Manchester by the Sea (2016). He earned the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Manchester By The Sea, was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for You Can Count On Me, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gangs of New York, among other accolades. He began writing in high school and gained critical acclaim in 1996 with the play This Is Our Youth. His success continued with The Waverly Gallery (1999), his film debut with Analyze This (1999), and Lobby Hero (2002). Lonergan’s stories and characters have been brought to life on stage and film by Hollywood elite including filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and actors Matthew Broderick, Anna Paquin, and Matt Damon. The Award will be presented to Lonergan by actor Matthew Broderick, a longtime friend and collaborator of Lonergan’s.

“We are thrilled to honor the indelible legacy of Mike Nichols and his transformative influence on American comedy, film and theatre,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “Kenneth Lonergan is a tailor-made inaugural honoree whose work pushes boundaries, breaks new thematic and artistic ground, and has inflected our culture in the best tradition of Mike Nichols.”

“The Literary Awards program is one of PEN America’s crown jewels,” said PEN America President Jennifer Egan. “With more and more writers working powerfully across genres, it’s a special joy to recognize performance as a literary form in partnership with Mike Nichols’ dear friend Lorne Michaels, and the Nichols family.”

Lonergan and all awardees will accept their prizes at the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 26 at the NYU Skirball Center in New York City. Featuring readings, performances, and edge-of-your-seat live announcements of the winners in 11 other categories, this annual fete of literary excellence has become one of the defining literary events of the year, where luminaries and tastemakers celebrate emerging writers and pay homage to established voices.

A full list of finalists for the 2018 PEN America Literary Awards is available at https://pen.org/2019finalists/. All book award winners will be announced live at the ceremony. Tickets to the ceremony are available to the public here.  

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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. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org