The PEN America Awards Was a Whole Movie!
The legends showed up and showed out!
You ever sit in a room filled with people who you felt were completely out of your league and thought to yourself: “Yo, what the fuck am I doing here?”
That was me last night at the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony. It was such a surreal experience. Y’all, the number of legends and icons I met or saw was bananas (Diane Sawyer was in the green room, statuesque as a mug!) The fact that I was asked to present awards was wild. And I went on stage right after Molly Ringwald!
Solea Pfeiffer and Liisi LaFontaine sang DOWN.
Kal Penn, Rachel Dratch, and Tina Fey were hilarious!
Percival Everett, an OG in the game, was given his flowers!
The in memoriam, accompanied by Bobby Conte, was very touching.
The speeches from Robin Coste Lewis and Erika Dickerson-Despenza moved us and lifted us up.
The peak of the evening for me was watching Ms. Lizan Mitchell get on that stage and transcend it and transport us with her brilliance manifested!
You can see the ceremony in its entirety by clicking on the YouTube video embedded above.
(For the complete list of winners, please visit the PEN America website.)
There was an afterparty. I was blessed to fellowship with Ben Brooks, Mahogany L. Browne, Novella S. Ford, David Glover, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, James Hannaham, Jared Jackson, Mira Jacob, Kelly and Anthony Lycurgus, Dinaw Mengestu, Dantiel W. Moniz, Roger Reeves, Geena Rocero, Beowulf Sheenan, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Jasmina Tomic, Paul Tran, Julie Trébault, Daniel Vazquez, Dawnie Walton, Irvin Weathersby, Keishel Williams, Toya Wolfe, Ryan Lee Wong, and more.
We were united not only to celebrate our elders and peers, but also to champion artistic freedom and literary integrity, which did nothing but magnify the love in the room. We are fully aware of the fuckshit happening outside of spaces like these and want to do our part as artists to join the resistance.
People kept coming up to me to tell me how much the The Prophets meant to them and it was hard to take it all in, honestly. Sometimes, it’s easier to believe the bad things said about you than the good things; I don’t know if that’s by American design or human design. (Shout out to these dudes on the stairs who looked like Harry Potter and Ron Weasley and stopped me to give my work props!) Either way, I have a lot to learn and unlearn.
Since I was 14, I worked at jobs that I can now recognize as highly toxic and abusive in almost every way. I never imagined that I would be able to escape the middle-management and consumer sadists and literally find life and liberation inside my purpose—not just as a dream, but forreal-forreal.
A special thank you to the staff at PEN America—Donica Bettanin, Bonnie Calvin, Jonathan Friedman, Aleah Gatto, Cara Merendino (whose mother, Renee, adopted me, LOL!), Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Lili Stern, Sabir Sultan, Victoria Weinberg, Christie Wensley, and everybody—who invited me into this community and made the experience magical.
I’m filled with tremendous gratitude.
Blessings upon blessings,