Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim will receive the 2017 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award at PEN America’s annual Literary Gala, which will be held April 25 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Oscar winner Meryl Streep, who starred in the 2014 film adaptation of Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, will present the prize.
PEN America, the country’s largest writer-driven free expression advocacy organization, confers the Literary Service Award annually to a “critically acclaimed writer whose body of work helps us understand and interpret the human condition, engendering empathy and imagination in even the darkest hours,” according to a press release.
Sondheim, whose numerous musicals include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Merrily We Roll Along, Follies, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Passion, and more, is also the winner of at least 60 individual and collaborative Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Stephen Sondheim’s oeuvre is profoundly literary in its elegiac reaching for the truth of who we are, how we love, and how we strive to locate meaning in our work,” said author Andrew Solomon, president of PEN America, in a statement. “He will be the first composer-lyricist to receive this award, which recognizes his nuanced insight into human character. His support for a new generation of writers makes him a literary citizen of the first order.”
PEN America will also honor John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishers. As both a publisher and children’s book author, Sargent is a “fierce advocate of the right to publish and a defender of publishers’ and authors’ intellectual property rights.”
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."