Mar. 2: Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Tina Fey and Vinod Kumar Shukla to Receive Career Achievement Honors at Pen America Literary Awards Ceremony

Erika Dickerson-Despenza. Photo by Lia Chang

(NEW YORK)—PEN America today announced recipients of two monumental career achievement honors to be presented live at the 59th Annual PEN Literary Awards, March 2 at The Town Hall. Short story writer, novelist, poet, and essayist Vinod Kumar Shukla (A Window Lived in the Wall, A Silent Place), considered one of the greatest contemporary writers in the Hindi language, will be celebrated with the 2023 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, and acclaimed playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza (cullud wattah, [hieroglyph]), whose play shadow/land will have its world premiere at The Public Theater in April 2023, will receive the 2023 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award.

Shukla and Dickerson-Despenza will be recognized, alongside previously-announced fellow career achievement honoree Tina Fey (receiving the 2023 PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award), at the dazzling event hosted by acclaimed actor, author, and former Obama White House aide Kal Penn.

The PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature is conferred annually to a living author whose body of work is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship. Previous winners have included Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Anne Carson, M. NourbeSe Philip, Sandra Cisneros, Edna O’Brien, and Adonis.

Amit Chaudhuri, Roya Hakakian, and Maaza Mengiste, the panel of judges who selected Vinod Kumar Shukla for the award, said, “Shukla’s prose and poetry are marked by acute, often defamiliarizing, observation. The voice that emerges is that of a deeply intelligent onlooker; a daydreamer struck occasionally by wonder. Writing for decades without the recognition he deserves, Shukla has created literature that changes how we understand the modern. With this award, the 2023 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature acknowledges a writer as well as a tradition, or traditions, of anomalousness in literature without which we cannot fully grasp our history or inhabit our present.”

The PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award honors a mid-career playwright with an outstanding voice. The award’s judges, Luis Alfaro and Saheem Ali, selected the playwright whose work has been hailed as “powerful” (The New York Times), “devastating” (Time Out), “potent” and “rich” (Chicago Tribune). Dickerson-Despenza’s latest work shadow/land begins her 10-play Katrina Cycle, which, like her acclaimed work Cullud Wattah, explores the intersecting American injustices exposed and exacerbated by an environmental crisis. Recent winners of this prize include Larissa FastHorse, Tanya Barfield, Daniel Alexander Jones, and Jackie Sibblies Drury.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Chief Program Officer, Literary Programming at PEN America, said, “The recipients of our Literary Awards’ three career achievement honors reveal the breadth of what human imagination committed to the page, stage, and screen can offer us. With their inimitable and instantaneously recognizable styles—Shukla’s pairing of keen directness and wonder, Dickerson-Despenza’s collision of lyricism and urgency, Fey’s comedic sensitivity in an absurd world—they bring us into their distinct visions of reality, in all its slipperiness. They give us so much to celebrate.”

At the ceremony, various luminaries will present awards—including announcing the winners of 11 book awards, recognizing literary excellence from the past year in a wide range of genres. (See the recently-shared finalists lists here). 2023 Awards will be presented by composer, musician, and former Radiolab host Jad Abumrad; poet, writer, curator, organizer, and Lincoln Center’s inaugural poet-in-residence Mahogany L. Browne; actress, comedian, and former Saturday Night Live cast member Rachel Dratch; New York Times best selling author Robert Jones, Jr.; Emmy-winning anchor of The Beat on MSNBC and Chief Legal Correspondent for MSNBC Ari Melber; celebrated choreographer and actor Adesola Osakalumi; acclaimed actress, author, and translator Molly Ringwald; producer, director, model, public speaker, trans rights advocate, and television host Geena Rocero; and others. The evening’s performers include Broadway’s Bobby Conte, Liisi LaFontaine, and Solea Pfieffer, with musical direction by Ulysses Owens, Jr.

The Literary Awards, described by past host Seth Meyers as “the Oscars for books,” gather leading literary, entertainment, and media figures to celebrate writers and translators in what is also an unforgettable night for readers. It is the rare high-profile awards show that is open to the public, with tickets starting at $15 (available at

The 2023 PEN America Literary Awards red carpet opens at 6pm, followed by the ceremony at 8pm. The Town Hall is located at 123 West 43rd Street.

About Vinod Kumar Shukla

Vinod Kumar Shukla is the celebrated author of novels, poetry, and short stories in Hindi and in translation. He has been awarded the Sahitya Akademi award (from India’s national academy of letters), the Atta Galatta–Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize, and Mathrubhumi Book of the Year award, among others.

Shukla’s work is lauded for its distinctive linguistic texture and emotional depth. His singular literary style often breaks with convention, earning comparisons to magical realism that only partly capture his striking originality. Renowned for bringing the marvelous to the ordinary, in his intimate evocations of rural and small-town life and his interrogation of modern aspirations Shukla offers readers something universal.

Vinod Kumar Shukla’s celebrated works include the novels A Window Lived in the Wall and A Silent Place, and the short story collection Blue Is Like Blue. At 87, Shukla is constantly engaged in creation. A new translation of his poems is forthcoming in the USA from Circumference Books.

About Erika Dickerson-Despenza

Erika Dickerson-Despenza is a New Orleans-based Blk radical leftist writer and ecowomanist cultural-memory worker. She is the creator and inaugural resident of The Ntozake Shange Social Justice Playwriting Residency, which supports distinguished women, femme, and non-binary scholar-playwrights of the African Diaspora for two-year terms. Her work includes shadow/land (The Public Theater, 2023), cullud wattah (The Public Theater, 2021), and [hieroglyph] (San Francisco Playhouse/Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 2021). Currently, Erika is developing a 10-play Katrina Cycle, which centers climate crisis-induced and state-sanctioned water vulnerabilities and displacement rippling in and beyond New Orleans and the Midwest, a Disney musical adaptation of a New York Times #1 bestselling YA novel and an original feature film with Mattel.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at

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