The honor is 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 2006 award, Kennedy receives the former and Guirgis the latter.
"Her plays have given us a vocabulary of dramatic technique no other writer has explored: the fragmentation of identity, the haunting use of repetition, the creation of elegiac language, an alienation of and from canonical literature, and the journeys of race, gender, and sexual ruptures from the scripted and policed behaviors that a dominant culture has enforced," read the Kennedy's citation. "But her dream logic, her steadfast persistence, her witnessing to a vibrancy beneath the surface, feels triumphant. With a passion, a courage, a personal investment and visibility in her work, Adrienne Kennedy continues to change the landscape of American drama with a wealth of plays whose importance will continue to inspire all of us in this field."
Kennedy has penned the plays Funnyhouse of a Negro, A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, Ohio State Murders and June and Jean in Concert. Other works include a recent adaptation of Madame Bovary as well as Cities In Bezique, The Dramatic Circle, The Lennon Play: In His Own Write, She Talks To Beethoven and Sleep Deprivation Chamber.
"Stephen is crafting a new kind of American Theater, one which is unique in its multiplicity of voices, rhythms, and beliefs," begins Guirgis' judge's citation. "By giving voice to characters that America—and in turn the American theater—frequently chooses to exclude from the conversation, he is creating a theatre that feels vital, political, intimate, and undeniably of the moment. Following in the traditions of Odets, Bullins, Rabe, Pinero and Mamet, yet clearly fueled by his own sense of truth, Guirgis creates characters who are all trapped within the urban landscape, but what comes flying out of their mouths is anything but abject surrender. From a jail cell on Rikers, to a pre-Disneyfied Times Square bar, to a courtroom in purgatory, they all speak/shout/sing a language of defiance, its music in turns ribald, poetic, elegant, and outrageous."
Guirgis' works have included In Arabia We'd Be Kings, Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train, Our Lady of 121st Street and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot — all seen as productions of the Labyrinth Theatre Company as directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. His latest work, The Little Flower of East Orange will play in Manhattan Theatre Club's season. 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 Wallace Shawn and Dael Orlandersmith (2005), 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 22 at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theatre. Judges for the 2006 award were John Guare, Paula Vogel and George Wolfe.
For more information on PEN, visit their website at www.pen.org.