George C. Wolfe, Daniel Alexander Jones, and Kwame Dawes are the writers of African descent on the PEN America Career Achievement Awards 2021 list announced on March 23, 2021.
In addition to the book awards that are handed out annually, PEN America honours outstanding careers and lifetime contributions to the world of literature and drama of our era, as well as the promise of emerging talents. Those to be honoured this year will receive their recognition in the categories of PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing, and PEN/Manheim Award for Translation.
Among this year’s winners are revolutionaries, icons, and trailblazers, masters of their craft and leaders of their students. These writers ask complex questions and refuse simple answers; through language they confront preconceived patterns, ideas, and notions, and challenge the world and its people to be better. By poetry, translation, screenwriting, dramaturgy, performance writing, and the art of editing, these honorees transform the arc of the literary canon and infuse it with striking originality. They transcend barriers, languages, and cultures, and pointedly address urgent topics for conversation. They are bright lights, guiding us in directions we must follow.
The writers of African descent being honoured this year will be;
PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award ($25,000) – George C. Wolfe
Honoring a writer whose transformative work enlightens and inspires audiences in the tradition of venerated comedian and filmmaker Mike Nichols. The winner will continuously break into new thematic or artistic ground with each subsequent work. The winner is selected by an internal, anonymous judging panel.
From the judges’ citation: “George C. Wolfe is a director, playwright, and producer whose career across stage and screen has continually transformed and pushed the boundaries of American culture. Wolfe endows his work with a deep historiography, investigating past legacies while urging us to imagine more inclusive futures. From his stagings of the theatrical canon to contemporary masterworks, Wolfe is meticulous in revealing authentic humanity.
PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award ($10,000) – Daniel Alexander Jones
Conferred annually to an American playwright with an outstanding voice, and working indisputably at the highest level of achievement. Recognizes excellence in American theater and the playwright’s literary accomplishments, apparent in the rich and striking language of their work.
Judges: Jeremy O. Harris, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leigh Silverman
From the judges’ citation: “Daniel Alexander Jones is a multidisciplinary artist whose consummate talents have taken the work he has done primarily as his alter ego Jomama Jones from theaters in Soho to concert halls in Europe. In a time when conservatism, queerphobia, and anti-Blackness moved not only through our country but throughout our industry, Jones has continued perfecting a dramaturgy all his own based in the traditions of Africana studies, performance studies, queer theory, and mysticism, challenging established traditions while creating space for audiences to ponder what theater is and who it is for.
PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing ($2,500) – Kwame Dawes, Prairie Schooner.
Honoring a magazine editor whose high literary standards and taste have, throughout their career, contributed significantly to the excellence of the publication they edit.
Judges: Patrick Cottrell, Carmen Giménez Smith, John Jeremiah Sullivan
From the judges’ citation: “Born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, Kwame Dawes serves as the Glenna Luschei Editor of the journal Prairie Schooner and is an editor for the African Poetry Book Series at the University of Nebraska, where he serves as the Chancellor’s Professor of English. Dawes is an active literary advocate for literature around the world: he cofounded and serves as the artistic director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place in Jamaica. Dawes has also worked as an HIV/AIDS advocate in this country and in Jamaica, and is the author of several books of poetry.