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Tina Fey Honored at 2023 PEN America Literary Awards

NEW YORK – Greek-American Tina Fey was honored on March 2 at the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards, a celebration of literary excellence hosted by actor, author, and former Obama White House aide Kal Penn at New York’s The Town Hall. Fey was one of three luminaries— alongside titan of Hindi literature Vinod Kumar Shukla and acclaimed playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza— recognized with career achievement awards in a ceremony that also conferred 11 awards to writers and translators of the past year’s most exemplary works— totalling $350,000 in prizes. The night’s top honor, the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Award, went to prolific genre-defying author Percival Everett, for Dr. No.

Longtime collaborator Rachel Dratch presented the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award to Fey and joked, “Tina, I will say this. If I had one wish for you tonight, it would be that you had written this speech I am giving in your honor. It would be far wittier and, let’s face it, your speech would probably be turned into a Broadway play that could then become a movie that could in turn be a musical and then a movie musical and then back into a Broadway play and then into an avant garde performance piece downtown.”

She continued: “If Tina wrote this speech about herself it would… make you laugh out loud, it would include some sort of social satire, probably with a feminist bent that would make you say:’Yes! Lady Power! But nothing cringey, you would be belly-laughing and maybe not even realize you had learned something about society along the way.”

Tina Fey continued her three-decade streak of making audiences laugh, saying, in her acceptance speech: “As a 52-year-old woman who’s been living in New York and writing comedy for 30 years, there aren’t too many rooms anymore where I feel like a charlatan and a failure, but we found one! It’s tonight!… I am vibrating with the energy of a person who’s afraid that the next thing she says will reveal her idiocy!… It’s a pleasure to be here accepting an award named after the great Mike Nichols. It’s such an honor to be associated with his name in any way. You could have called this award the ‘Bitch, You Are No Mike Nichols Award’ and I still would have gladly shown up and accepted it just to have my name in proximity with his career.”

PEN America President Ayad Akhtar, the playwright and novelist, turned in his speech from this year’s “moving and groundbreaking works” to discuss what’s at stake for the written word, and reminded audiences of PEN America’s critical role in defending free expression. “For the past 100 years, we’ve worked to defend the rights of writers to imagine, and speak, to create freely. As we look ahead to the next hundred years, our mission is fueled by new urgency. Alarming attempts to use the power of the state to ban ideas, and the books that contain them, have proliferated in this country, and we are also battling a dwindling space of civil exchange – and a growing belief on all sides of the political spectrum, that the harms of speech hold an equal or even greater claim on us than the freedom to speak.”

The list of Book Award winners follows:

PEN/Jean Stein Award- Percival Everett, Dr. No.
PEN Open Book Award- The Black Period, Hafizah Augustus Geter
PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection- Night of the Living Rez, Morgan Talty
PEN/Hemingway Award For Debut Novel- Calling for a Blanket Dance, Oscar Hokeah
PEN/Voelcker Award For Poetry Collection- To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness, Robin Coste Lewis
PEN Award for Poetry in Translation- Daniel Borzutzky, for the translation of Paula Ilabaca Nuñez’s The Loose Pearl
PEN Translation Prize- Tiffany Tsao, for the translation of Budi Darma’s People from Bloomington
PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay- A Left Handed Woman, Judith Thurman
PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award- Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, Florence Williams
PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award For Biography- Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer who Reinvented Rhythm, Dan Charnas
PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction- The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning, Eve Fairbanks.

Video of the event is available on YouTube: https://bit.ly/3KUxGx7.
More information about PEN America is available online: https://pen.org

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