PEN America held its 2018 Literary Awards ceremony on February 20 at New York University. The revamped ceremony, replete with jazz combo and an Oscars-style "In Memoriam" video, saw poet Layli Long Soldier and fiction writer Jenny Zhang win the night's two most anticipated awards. And, to accept an award on behalf of the late Ursula K. Le Guin, was the author's son, Theo.
Long Soldier's debut poetry collection, Whereas, won the top book of the evening, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, which comes with a $75,000 purse. Zhang won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for her short story collection Sour Heart, and Le Guin won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for No Time to Spare.
Among the other winners, some previously announced (and all of which can be found here), were Edmund White, who was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and Irish novelist Edna O’Brien, who received the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. Alexis Okeowo was awarded the PEN/Open Book Award for A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa.
“This year’s awardees represent the near and far corners of the literary landscape, including writers who have shattered barriers of race, class, ethnicity, geography, gender and sexual orientation to bring stories to new audiences, unlock empathy and take places of distinction within our collective canon,” PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel said in her evening's address. “In times of challenge great literature offers a desperately needed window onto other possibilities. We celebrate these extraordinary writers, and we thank them for keeping us nourished at a time when inspiration is sorely needed.”
White, for his part, used his acceptance speech to note the collaborative nature of literature. "It turns out the romantic myth of art is wrong," he said. "It takes a village to produce a book."
Political commentator Sally Kohn served as the emcee for the evening, keeping things a little political while mostly staying out of the spotlight. "It's just like the Oscars," she quipped later on in the evening, "only smarter."