The honors are split between two selected playwrights: one to a master American dramatist, "in recognition of his or her body of work" and the other to an American playwright in mid-career, "whose literary achievements are vividly apparent in the rich and striking language of his or her work" as the guidelines state. For the 2005 award, Shawn receives the former and Orlandersmith the latter.
"Wallace Shawn has been ahead of the avant garde for forty years," reads his citation. "In form and content, he has shown the way to a new kind of theatre, a theatre able to contain sex and politics and history and heartache and remorse, longing and confusion, the horrors of self-knowledge, deep and complex thought as well as deep and complex feeling, and to show us, in ways we would never otherwise have known so well, what it is to be a human being."
Shawn — who currently appear in Off-Broadway's Hurlyburly — has penned Aunt Dan and Lemon, Marie and Bruce, The Designated Mourner, The Fever, Thought In Three Parts and is currently at work on a new adaptation of The Threepenny Opera to be presented on Broadway next season.
"Poetic, raw, brave, funny, tragic, rebellious, compassionate, angry, ugly, maddening, beautiful, and fiercely human; Dael's work miraculously manages to be all of these things at once," begins her judge's citation. "She is unafraid to venture into troubling and controversial territory to bring us compelling stories that bare witness to the diversity of the American experience. Her deep reservoir of characters is filled with damaged fragile people who share their tales with a naked urgency. In her hands the truth is a bitter yet welcome pill, that's delivered with poetic insight and words that flow so deliciously that they make you sway. As a poet, playwright and performer, she is equally gifted and as such the American theatre is enriched and enlivened by her presence."
Orlandersmith — who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her work Yellowman — has also penned Beauty's Daughter, The Gimmick, Monster, My Red Hand My Black Hand, and Raw Boys. The awards were developed to reflect Laura Pels' dedication to supporting excellence in American theatre as well as PEN's commitment to recognizing and rewarding the playwright's literary accomplishment. Past winners include Lanford Wilson and Lynn Nottage (2004), John Guare and Craig Lucas (2003), Maria Irene Fornes and Tony Kushner (2002), Richard Foreman and Charles L. Mee (2001), Horton Foote and Suzan Lori Parks (2000), Edward Albee and Paula Vogel (1999) and Arthur Miller and Richard Greenberg (1998).
The PEN Literary Awards will be presented at a ceremony May 23 at the Walter Reade Theatre in Lincoln Center. The more than 2,900 members of the PEN American Center include poets, playwrights, essayists, editors, and novelists (hence the acronym PEN) as well as literary translators and agents. PEN American Headquarters is housed in New York City with branches located in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.
For more information on PEN, visit their website at www.pen.org.