(NEW YORK)–PEN America will honor Saturday Night Live (SNL) creator, writer and executive producer Lorne Michaels with the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award at its 2023 Literary Gala. The award recognizes Michael’s legacy of four decades of biting satire that has captured the tenor of the moment, probing the norms, restrictions and absurdities of our institutions and the powerful. PEN America, the writers’ organization that advocates to protect free expression, also announced the host of the gala will be Colin Jost, SNL’s Weekend Update co-anchor and a show writer since 2005. Along with Michaels, Netflix Co-Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos will be honored with the Business Visionary Award in recognition of the transformative impact of Netflix on storytelling, society at large, and on book adaptations as a critical source of content.

To be held on Thursday, May 18 under the blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the gala welcomes writers, human rights advocates, humanitarians, opinion leaders, and cultural influencers to support PEN America’s literary and arts programming and advocacy for free expression worldwide.

Each spring PEN America’s gala is an inspiring and exhilarating celebration of the literary arts, activism, and free expression, with 700 + supporters and a gathering of acclaimed writers, who are seated at each table as literary hosts. Past writer-hosts have included Ayad Akhtar, current PEN America president; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Robert Caro, Ron Chernow, Neil Gaiman, Roxane Gay, Masha Gessen, Hari Kunzru, Jhumpa Lahiri, Min Jin Lee, Jay McInerney, Lynn Nottage, Jodi Picoult, Claudia Rankine, Salman Rushdie, Gary Shteyngart, Gay Talese, and many more. 

This momentous occasion honors extraordinary contributors in their fields—in literature, the arts, journalism, publishing, film, and other endeavors—alongside those who have demonstrated remarkable courage by standing in the face of adversity for free expression.

As the 2023 PEN/Audible Literary Service Award recipient, Michaels, the visionary behind Saturday Night Live since 1975, will join an illustrious group of past honorees, including President Barack Obama and Ava DuVernay (Voice of Influence Award honorees) and literary service award recipients Bob Woodward, Stephen King, Patti Smith, the late Toni Morrison and Stephen Sondheim, J.K. Rowling, Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and last year, Zadie Smith.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “Lorne Michaels’ unique brand of uproarious and fearless political and social sketches forever changed television and comedy. The political landscape wouldn’t be the same without SNL to offer up a weekly skewering of a hapless cast of characters from the halls of power in Washington— a merry time capsule of what gave us joy and jitters in moments of national exhilaration and peril. Lorne Michaels has mentored and nurtured three generations of this country’s most talented and innovative writers, shaping the voice of American comedy as it resonates the world over. His ability to keep his finger on our national zeitgeist for 47 years and counting makes him an unparalleled cultural icon.”  

Playwright, novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar, the PEN America president, said: “Under Ted Sarandos’ leadership, Netflix has sparked a revolution in storytelling, bringing new voices and filmmaking legends alike into our homes and ushering in an era of novelistic absorption in the television form. Sarandos has also been at the forefront of some of our most pressing debates over the edges of freedom of expression, commerce, and how to both reflect and engage a pluralistic society without compromising free speech.  We are especially excited by the growing interplay between the literary world and Netflix with the emergence of book adaptations as a critical source of content and the launch of the Netflix book club.”

Jost, the comedian and writer, has been Weekend Update co-anchor since 2014 and a show writer since 2005. He was one of the show’s co-head writers from 2012 to 2015 and later came back as one of the show’s head writers in 2017 until 2022. He is the author of The New York Times bestselling memoir A Very Punchable Face.

In the months ahead, PEN America will announce other honorees and presenters, including the recipients of the PEN/Benenson Freedom of Expression Courage Award, devoted to exceptional acts of courage in the exercise of freedom of expression, and the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, given to an internationally jailed writer of conscience. In addition, PEN America will announce the master of ceremonies, who in the past have included John Oliver, Awkwafina and Faith Salie. Special guests in past years have included Lupita N’yongo, Michael Douglas, Ruth Negga, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Asia Kate Dillon, Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker, Morgan Freeman and many others.

The gala will begin with a VIP reception at 6 pm, followed by a cocktail reception at 6:30 pm, and dinner and awards at 7:30 pm. The after party and dessert will follow at 9:30 pm.

For sponsorship information, please call 646-880-6116 or email: [email protected]  Individual tickets will be available in April.

For more information about the gala, visit: www.pen.org/gala


Lorne Michaels

Lorne Michaels is an award-winning producer and writer, best known as the creator and executive producer of “Saturday Night Live,” the most Emmy Award-nominated show in television history, Michaels’ television credits also include “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “30 Rock,” “Portlandia,” “Schmigadoon” and “Kids in the Hall.” His film credits include “Three Amigos,” “Wayne’s World,” “Tommy Boy,” “Mean Girls” and “MacGruber.” On Broadway, he produced and directed “Gilda Radner – Live From New York” and recently produced “Mean Girls,” the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical based on the hit movie. Michaels’ 97 Emmy nominations are the most ever for an  individual, with 21 wins. He received the 2004 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and in 2013 earned the rare honor of an individual Peabody Award. Michaels was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Born in Canada, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2018. He received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime artistic achievement in 2021.

Ted Sarandos

Ted Sarandos serves as Chief Content Officer and co-CEO at Netflix. He oversees the teams responsible for the acquisition and creation of all Netflix content, including original series from around the world, such as “Stranger Things,” “Dark” (Germany), “La Casa de Papel” (Spain), “Sacred Games” (India), and “The Witcher” (Poland), and films including “The Irishman,” “Murder Mystery,” “Bird Box,” the 3-time Academy Award winning film “ROMA” and the Academy Award winning “Marriage Story.” Ted has been responsible for all content operation since 2000, and led the company’s transition into original content production that began in 2013 with the launch of the series “House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange Is the New Black, among numerous others.

Colin Jost is a comedian, actor, and writer. He has been a writer for Saturday Night Live since 2005 and Weekend Update co-anchor since 2014. He also served as one of the show’s co-head writers from 2012 to 2015 and later came back as one of the show’s head writers in 2017 until 2022, alongside Michael Che. Born and raised on Staten Island in New York City, he graduated from Harvard in 2004 and after graduation worked as a reporter and copy editor for the Staten Island Advance. He was then hired as a writer for a short-lived Nickelodeon animated show, Kappa Mikey. After he left that job, he sent in a writing packet to SNL which gave him a writing position in 2005.

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. pen.org