LeVar Burton, the actor and longtime host of Reading Rainbow, has been named the inaugural PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion, a new annual commendation that will "recognize devoted literary advocacy and a commitment to inspiring new generations of readers and writers," the PEN/Faulkner Foundation said in a release. Burton will be honored in a virtual celebration on May 10, when this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award winner—its 40th—will be announced.

“I come from a family for whom service to others is the highest possible calling,” Burton said. “Whatever efforts I have made toward advancing the cause of literacy, give honor to my mother, Erma Gene Christian, my first teacher and from whom I have inherited my love for books and reading. As we move forward out of a time when alternative facts and mendacious propaganda shaped public opinion, the work you do through the PEN/Faulkner Award, and your committed investment in DC schools, has never been more important. I couldn’t be more honored to be the inaugural PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion.”

In addition, the longlist for the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction has been announced:

  • Bestiary by K-Ming Chang (One World)
  • Dear Ann by Bobbie Ann Mason (HarperCollins)
  • Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses (Little A)
  • The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman (Scribner)
  • Nine Shiny Objects by Brian Castleberry (Custom House)
  • The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Riverhead)
  • Scattered Lights by Steve Wiegenstein (Cornerpost)
  • The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (West Virginia University Press)
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Alfred A. Knopf)

Three judges chose the 10 titles from a group of 419 novels and short story collections submitted by more than 170 publishing houses; the books were all written by American authors published in the U.S. Finalists will be announced in early March.