“The Oscars for books” event on March 2 to celebrate past year’s best writing
Noted Indian American actor, author, and former Obama White House aide, Kal Penn, will host of the 60th annual PEN America Literary Awards, described as “the Oscars for books” to celebrate past year’s best writing.
The red carpet event at Town Hall in New York City opens at 6 pm on March 2, followed by the awards ceremony at 8 pm conferring more than $350,000 in awards to writers and translators, according to a PEN America press release.
“Kal Penn epitomizes PEN America’s belief in the capacity of writers and artists to instigate social and political change,” said Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief program officer for Literary Programming at PEN America.
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“His illuminating, often hilarious 2021 memoir ‘You Can’t Be Serious’ reveals in candid prose a life and multi-hyphenated career—including a hiatus from acting to do crucial work at the White House—that sets an example for civically engaged artistry.
“He is the perfect person to lead a captivating evening celebrating exemplary literature—while considering the urgent societal concerns within many of these books, and the work PEN America does in advocating for free expression year-round,” Shariyf said.
This year’s star-studded lineup of career-achievement award winners, presenters, and performers will be announced soon. Tickets, starting at $15, are on sale now at pen.org.
Described as “the Oscars for books” by past host Seth Meyers, the PEN America Literary Awards feature speeches, live music, theatrical performances, and a moving In Memoriam segment honoring the literary greats lost over the last year.
Writers and cultural visionaries will present 11 book awards and three career-achievement awards. Finalists for all book awards will be announced later in February, and all winners will be revealed at the ceremony.
The PEN America Literary Awards recognize both established and emerging writers and are remarkably effective as identifiers of early talent.
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Spanning fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, and translation, the books celebrated at the awards are dynamic, diverse, and thought-provoking examples of literary excellence, the release said.
Former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Kal Penn is known for his starring roles in Designated Survivor, House, Mira Nair’s The Namesake, the Harold & Kumar franchise, and the Christmas comedy The Santa Clauses for Disney+.
From 2009 to 2011, Penn took a sabbatical from acting to serve in the Obama/Biden administration as the President’s Liaison to Young Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the Arts community.
In these roles, he worked on a range of issues, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Affordable Care Act, Pell Grants, arts and culture programs, the DREAM Act, and rapid response to the BP Oil Spill and earthquake in Haiti.
He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden re-election campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, focusing on arts education and cultural diplomacy, including the first-ever US Government arts delegation to Cuba.
Penn has taught courses at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Los Angeles. Originally from New Jersey, he received his undergraduate degree in sociology, theater, film, and television at UCLA, and received a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University.
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He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Earlier in the year, Penn wrapped production on the Bloomberg Green climate change docuseries Getting Warmer, and the Viacom/Paramount+ comedy Surina & Mel’s Hot Mess Holiday. Following the departure of Trevor Noah from The Daily Show, Penn was named an upcoming guest host.
His first book, You Can’t Be Serious, became a bestseller when it was released on Nov 2, 2021, from Simon and Schuster/ Gallery Books. He also narrates the audiobook.