(NEW YORK)—PEN America today announced that Tina Fey, nine-time Emmy Award winner and one of the greatest comedy writers of her generation, will receive the 2023 PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award at the 59th annual PEN America Literary Awards. Fey’s friend and frequent castmate Rachel Dratch will present the honor live at the ceremony, March 2 at The Town Hall.

PEN America also made public the finalists for the evening’s 11 book awards, recognizing literary excellence in a wide range of genres. In a dazzling event hosted by acclaimed actor, author, and former Obama White House aide Kal Penn—with live music, dramatic readings, and memorable acceptance speeches—over $350,000 will go to writers and translators.

Fey said, “It’s been a lifelong dream to have my name associated in any way with the great Mike Nichols.  Thanks to this award, I can stop working on my Silkwood reboot.”

Fey is the fifth recipient of the PEN/Mike Nichols award, which honors a writer who enlightens and inspires audiences in the tradition of the venerated, late comedian and filmmaker Mike Nichols, with special attention paid to writing that breaks new thematic or artistic ground. Previous winners include George C. Wolfe, Tom Stoppard, Kenneth Lonergan, and Elaine May.

“The PEN America Literary Awards celebrate both the joy and the essential hard truths writers deliver,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “With her unabashed comic sensibilities, multilayered jokes, and heightened reflection of our off-kilter world, Tina Fey has brought indispensable laughter and insight to audiences and readers. We couldn’t be happier to share this award with such a singular and pioneering artist, who, like the great Mike Nichols, understands the depth and social import of humor.”

Fey has been making audiences laugh for over 25 years, in a career of towering achievements. In 1999, she became the first female head writer on Saturday Night Live and wrote the iconic comedy film Mean Girls (and later, the book for Broadway smash hit Mean Girls the Musical, and screenplay for an upcoming movie adaptation). She innovated network TV comedy writing with unique razor-sharp humor the series 30 Rock and starring as the beloved character Liz Lemon. She applied her writing’s mix of buoyancy and bite to the exploration of trauma through a comedic lens in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Fey’s ever-growing canon of film and TV—along with a Broadway musical and her bestselling memoir Bossypants—offers a keen exploration of womanhood, as well as the often-surreal elements of contemporary life.

The PEN America Literary Awards identify the year’s best writing in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, translation, and more. For emerging and established winners alike, the prizes are career milestones. Over the years, the Awards have been remarkably effective in identifying early talent, recognizing eventual titans including Chang Rae Lee (1996), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2002), Jonathan Safran Foer (2004). Finalists for this year’s PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel include Lisa Hsiao Chen (Activities of Daily Living), Ramona Emerson (Shutter), Oscar Hokeah (Calling For a Blanket Dance), Alyssa Songsiridej (Little Rabbit), and Ryan Lee Wong (Which Side Are You On). This year’s PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection finalists are Sindya Bhanoo (Seeking Fortune Elsewhere), Meron Hadero (A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times), Jasmine Sawers (The Anchored World), Morgan Talty (Night of the Living Rez), and Morgan Thomas (Manywhere).

The PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, recognizing the originality, merit, and impact of a book-length work of any genre, and conferring $75,000 to its author, is the evening’s largest monetary prize. On the shortlist for the award this year are graphic novelist Nick Drnaso, poet Bernadette Mayer, novels by Percival Everett and Noor Naga, and a prismatic memoir by Sofia Samatar. Finalists for the PEN Open Book Award, for an exceptional book-length work of any literary genre by an author of color, are Ramona Emerson (Shutter), Hafizah Augustus Geter (The Black Period),  Casey Rocheteau (Gorgoneion), Paul Tran (All the Flowers Kneeling), and Toya Wolfe (Last Summer on State Street). Finalists for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, honoring a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective that illuminates important contemporary issues, include Eve Fairbanks (The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning), Kelly Lytle Hernandez (Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands), Imani Perry (South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation), Martin Sixsmith (The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind),  and Javier Zamora (Solito). See full list of finalists here.

Leading literary, entertainment, and media figures will gather at The Town Hall in what past host Seth Meyers has described as “the Oscars for books.” The celebration for writers and translators is also an unforgettable night for readers. It is the rare high-profile awards show that is open to the public, with tickets starting at $15 (available at pen.org).

2023 Awards will be presented by luminaries including composer, musician, and former Radiolab host Jad Abumrad; Emmy-winning anchor of The Beat on MSNBC and Chief Legal Correspondent for MSNBC Ari Melber; former United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky; acclaimed actress, author, and translator Molly Ringwald; producer, director, model, public speaker, trans rights advocate, and television host Geena Rocero; and others. The evening’s performers include Broadway’s Bobby Conte, Liisi LaFontaine, and Solea Pfieffer, with musical direction by Ulysses Owens, Jr.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Chief Program Officer – Literary Programming at PEN America, said, “In  their selection of 54 incredible finalists, the judges for this year’s PEN America Literary Awards—all active members of the literary community—have offered a glimpse at an exhilarating year in literature, in work across genres from authors across generations. We are thrilled that our awards not only celebrate literary excellence, but also help spotlight less widely-distributed works: 67% of nominated books are published by small, independent, and university presses. We can’t wait to celebrate the voices that have been starting conversations all year—and will be for many to come.”

(Honorees for The PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, the ceremony’s other two career achievement awards, will be announced soon.) 

The 2023 PEN America Literary Awards red carpet opens at 6pm, followed by the ceremony at 8pm. The Town Hall is located at 123 West 43rd Street.

About Tina Fey

Tina Fey is an award-winning writer, actress, and producer. Fey continues to be celebrated for creating and inhabiting the iconic ‘Liz Lemon’ from 30 Rock, which Fey also co-wrote and co-executive produced. The series earned 16 Emmys and is the record-holder for the most Emmy nominations in one season for any comedy series receiving a total of 103 Emmy nominations over 7 seasons on NBC. Prior to creating 30 Rock, Fey completed 9 seasons as a writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live. She has continued to co-create and executive produce hit shows such as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Great News, Mr. Mayor, and Girls5eva. Additional film credits include Mean Girls, Baby Mama, Date Night, Sisters, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, to name a few as well as recently starring as a featured voice in Disney/Pixar’s Oscar winning animated film Soul. In addition, Fey had memorable roles in Prime Video’s Modern Love and most recently was featured in Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building with Martin Shot, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez. In 2011, Fey published her first book, Bossypants, which topped the New York Times best seller list. The book also received a Grammy nomination for “Best Spoken Word Album.” Currently, Fey is developing the big screen, musical adaptation of her cult classic film and Tony nominated Broadway musical version of Mean Girls: The Musical. Fey has several projects in development under her production banner Little Stranger.

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

Press Contacts

Suzanne Trimel at PEN America: 201.247.5057, [email protected] 

Blake Zidell, Adriana Leshko, and Nora Lyons at Blake Zidell & Associates: 917.572.2493, [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected]