• The Publishing Post

PEN America’s Career Achievement Awards 2021

By Ameenah Khan, Emma Carey, Caitlin Evans and Holly Mahoney


Since the early 1960’s, the PEN American awards have given voices to many across the world in literature and across diverse genres: including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature and drama. With the help of their partners, PEN America confers over twenty distinct awards, fellowships, grants and prizes each year, awarding nearly $350,000 to writers and translators. Among these distinct awards is PEN America’s Career Achievement Awards.


This year’s wonderful honorees are Anne Carson, Kwame Dawes, Daniel Alexander Jones, Pierre Joris and George C. Wolfe. The judges, without a doubt, were impressed with this year’s winners. We see this as they were described by PEN as “revolutionaries, icons and trailblazers, masters of their craft and leaders of their students.”


The 2021 Career Achievement Awards will be celebrated at the 2021 Literary Awards Ceremony, held virtually and open to a global audience on 8 April at 7:00 p.m. ET. Registration is free and tickets can be booked online. Make sure you get your tickets now!

PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature – Anne Carson


For this category, a healthy $50,000 cheque is given to international literature written with originality and skilled craftsmanship, as well as evoking what Nabokov described as an “indescribable tingle of the spine.” This year, the panel of five judges decided to award internationally-acclaimed poet Anne Carson with the prize. Anne Carson is a Canadian translator and author of poetry and essays, and was selected due to what the judges referred to as her “transformative translations,” “playful erudition” and for “crossing boundaries again and again.” Indeed, Carson’s work in the literary and translation sphere has left a large and impressive footprint since her first works in the 1980s.


PEN/Manheim Award for Translation – Pierre Joris


Similar in topic yet awarding a more modest prize sum, this category presents $1,000 to a translator whose work goes above and beyond in excellence and importance. This award is only given every three years, and the subcommittee of judges worked hard to scope the pool of nominees for the triennial award. The 2021 award has been deservingly assigned to Pierre Joris in recognition of his long-standing career. Joris has been translating literature in multiple languages for decades, spanning across Europe, North Africa and the Americas. The committee praised Joris’ work for being “essential in mapping currents and countercurrents of global modernity,” due to his longevity and insight in the global literary climate.


PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award – Daniel Alexander Jones


This annual $10,000 award honours Daniel Alexander Jones for his excellence in American theatre. The prize seeks out playwrights at the top of their game, “apparent in the rich and striking language of their work,” and this year the spotlight is on Jones as the deserving winner. Renowned for his ‘’holistic and hybridinal approach to the work of playwriting,” his eclectic mix of queer theory, mysticism, Africana and performance studies highlights that Jones’ talents stretch far beyond the realms of basic playwriting. As a multidisciplinary artist challenging the status quo and established traditions with his take on Dramaturgy, his work enables captivated audiences to ponder over the wonders of theatre. All the while shedding light on a neverland upon which fellow artists and students can aspire to journey.


PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award – George C. Wolfe


It’s a generous payday for George C. Wolfe with this $25,000 award. Wolfe’s rich history as a director, playwright and producer is merely the tip of the iceberg considering the impact he has created in his sphere. He is praised for “investigating past legacies while urging us to imagine more inclusive futures.” Judges also made a special mention regarding his groundbreaking direction of the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, quoting his masterpiece as “a rich portrayal of Black artists asserting their agency in a deeply racist society.” Wolfe stands as a true visionary in his field and the utmost deserving winner of the award.


As pioneering celebrants of the expression of free speech, PEN America’s Career Achievement Awards does not disappoint with regards to its vast collection of awards and the works awarded. This year’s awards honours the ingenious literary prowess of each winner, thus illuminating the impact of their works upon public discourse and the wider literary sphere. What truly sets such an award apart from similar awards is that it paves the way and it does not follow the lead of others. This is the sentiment of innovation that is present at the heart of the work of this years’ honorees.


Read more about PEN America’s activities in Issue twelve of The Publishing Post where we discussed their Prison Writing Awards.


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