Poet Frank Bidart, journalist James Wolcott take PEN Literary Awards

Bidart, Wolcott, and playwright David Rabe are among the recipients of the 2014 PEN Literary Awards.

Authors Frank Bidart (author of 'Stardust,' l.) and David Rabe (the writer behind 'The Vietnam Plays,' a collection of some of his works) were two of the winners of the 2014 PEN Literary Awards.

Acclaimed poet Frank Bidart, Tony Award-winning winning playwright David Rabe, and journalist and cultural critic James Wolcott are among the winners of the 2014 PEN Literary Awards, PEN America announced in New York Wednesday.

The recognition is awarded each year by the PEN American Center, a branch of the literary and human rights organization PEN International. The awards are as much a celebration of literature as of free speech, for which PEN advocates around the globe. 

“Celebrating the written word is an essential part of defending it,” said PEN President Peter Godwin in a statement. “[A]nd it is through PEN’s literary awards that we continue to honor some of the most exceptional books and bodies of work that free expression makes possible.”

For the first time, PEN has delayed announcing its two biggest prizes – the awards for debut fiction and for distinguished living American author – until the PEN ceremony on Sept. 29 in order to bring more attention to the finalists and the organization. Each prize is worth $25,000.

Finalists for the award include Anthony Marra for “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” Saïd Sayrafiezadeh for “Brief Encounters with the Enemy,” Ian Stansel for “Everybody’s Irish,” Shawn Vestal for “Godforsaken Idaho,” and Hanya Yanagihara for “The People in the Trees.”

Among the awards already announced, Mr. Wolcott won the PEN/Diamonstein­-Spielvogel Award for the art of the essay for his collection, “Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs,” which features four decades of the notable critic’s best works. PEN judges praised Wolcott’s "panoramic and encyclopedic variety."

Mr. Rabe won the Master American Dramatist award. His best-known works include the 1984 work “Hurlyburly” and “Sticks and Bones,” which won a Tony in 1972.

Mr. Bidart, whose most recent work, “Metaphysical Dog,” was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, was granted the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

The PEN/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction, given to an author of a previously unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice, was awarded to Ron Childress for “And West is West,” which tackles both the recent financial crisis and the war on terror. 

The prizes – along with the as-yet-unannounced prizes for debut fiction and distinguished living American author – will be formally awarded Sept. 29 at a ceremony in the New School in New York. 

See a full list of the PEN prizes here.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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