The 13th Annual PEN West Literary Awards


Forget about Emmy and Grammy and Oscar. Forget about gaudy production numbers, media orgies and post-event parties. Elegant simplicity was the watchword for much of the evening at the 13th annual PEN West Literary Awards, held last Friday at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. This was a ceremony defiantly produced only for those present in the hall, with only scant concessions made to the numberless millions of literature buffs tuning in around the globe. Master of Ceremonies David “A Hollywood Education” Freeman ended weeks of avid speculation as to how he would make this year’s entrance by stepping briskly up to the podium and intoning, “Welcome to this year’s PEN West Awards. Can you hear me all right in back?”

To discourage latecomers, the prestigious Nonfiction award led off the proceedings. Doing double duty as a presenter, Freeman bestowed the first of the coveted crystal plaques on William Kittredge for his memoir, “Hole in the Sky.” A visibly moved Kittredge accepted the award in the name of the late Wallace Stegner, himself the winner of a PEN award in 1990 for the body of his work.

Next up, the award for Fiction went to Rudolfo Anaya for his novel, “Alburquerque.” Some inside bettors were expecting the prize to go to nominee Cormac McCarthy for “All the Pretty Horses,” which had previously won the National Book Critics Circle Award. But the night belonged to Anaya, who gave thanks to his wife, Patricia, and also to the many schoolteachers who have championed his work over the years.


Thom Gunn took home the PEN award for Poetry, his second, for his collection, “The Man With Night Sweats.” In a speech that forbids levity, Gunn discussed the final poems in the volume, written about AIDS “as a record, a memorial for my own benefit, not just of death but of the way specific friends dealt with death. I wanted to write about them, not just about my grief.” He also read a poem from the early part of this collection called “To Isherwood Dying.”

Wayne Lammers nabbed the translation award for his rendering of “Still Life and Other Stories” by Japanese author Junzo Shono, to whom Lammers offered thanks “for his patience with me.” Boeing technical writer Randy Powell struck a blow for part-time authors everywhere when he collected the Children’s Literature award for his young adult novel “Is Kissing a Girl Who Smokes Like Licking an Ashtray?” “I have a long way to go as a writer and as a human being,” Powell said humbly, “but this award is an honor that I will cherish always.”

Dallas Morning News feature writer Bryan Woolley copped the Journalism award for his article in Dallas Life magazine, “The Bride Wore Crimson,” conceived after a visit to the newspaper morgue uncovered his own uncle’s never-discussed trial for uxoricide. Cherrie Moraga snagged the Playwriting award for “Heroes and Saints,” the story of a cluster of farm workers stricken with cancer in California’s Central Valley. The San Francisco-based Moraga thanked the theater jury for venturing outside Los Angeles and “digging me up.”

David Franzoni bagged PEN West’s first ever Teleplay award for his work on “Citizen Cohn,” which was broadcast over the Home Box Office network. He was profuse in his thanks to actor Jimmy Woods, who played the title role.

And the PEN Center U.S.A. West Literary Award for the year’s outstanding Screenplay went to Michael Tolkin for “The Player.” Tolkin could not be present at the ceremony, as he was on a book tour. Accepting the award was fellow screenwriter Freeman, who read a statement from the winner in which Tolkin allowed that, “As with most writers, I have mixed feelings about prizes unless I win them.”