Just this week my essay “Out West,” originally published in Orion, was named a finalist for the 2010 PEN Center USA Award in Journalism. PEN is a great organization, and this is wonderful, humbling news.
PEN Center USA’s annual awards program, established in 1982, is a unique, regional competition that recognizes literary excellence in ten categories: fiction, creative nonfiction, research nonfiction, poetry, children’s literature, translation, journalism, drama, teleplay, and screenplay. Past award winners include Barbara Kingsolver, Maxine Hong Kingston, T.C. Boyle and Paul Thomas Anderson. Each fall, PEN USA calls for submissions of work produced or published in that calendar year by writers living west of the Mississippi River. Entries in the ten categories are reviewed and judged by panels of distinguished writers, critics and editors. Winners are announced in late summer. Each receives a $1,000 cash prize and an invitation to the Annual Literary Awards Festival in Los Angeles.
The Literary Awards Festival includes a dinner, the presentation of the literary awards and honoree awards, and a silent auction or raffle. This gala is the only one of its scope on the West Coast and is attended by more than 500 prominent members of the literary community. Past recipients of the Award of Honor and Lifetime Achievement Award include: Ray Bradbury, Betty Friedan, Gore Vidal, Carolyn See, and Billy Wilder. The evening concludes with the presentation of the prestigious Freedom to Write Award, given to men and women who have produced exceptional work in the face of extreme adversity, who have been punished for exercising their freedom of expression or who have fought against censorship and defended the right to publish freely.