PEN honors SoCal writers with 2018 literary awards


The Los Angeles office of PEN America has announced the winners of its 2018 literary awards, which will be given out at the organization’s LitFest Gala in November in Beverly Hills.

Taking home the fiction award this year is Fresno author Venita Blackburn, honored for her short story collection “Black Jesus and Other Superheroes.” Honored for creative nonfiction is Sarah Sentilles for her work of memoir and criticism, “Draw Your Weapons.”

Three Los Angeles writers were named winners this year. Vickie Vértiz, a native of Bell Gardens, won the poetry prize for her collection “Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut,” and L.A.-based playwright Dan O’Brien won the drama award for “The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage.” Robin Benway, who grew up in Orange County and now lives in Los Angeles, was awarded the young adult prize for “Far from the Tree,” which also won the 2017 National Book Award for young people’s literature.


Two Bay Area authors won awards this year: Wendy Lesser of Berkeley was named winner of the biography prize for “You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn,” and San Francisco writer Jaeah Lee won the journalism award for “After the Shooting,” an article published in the California Sunday Magazine.

Rounding out the winners is Philip Boehm, who won the translation award for “Chasing the King of Hearts” by Hanna Krall.

Two of the honorees this year were announced in August. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was named the winner of PEN America’s Artistic Expression Award, and PEN America trustee Marvin Putnam, a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, will receive the organization’s Distinguished Leadership Award.

The awards will be presented at the Beverly Wilshire on Nov. 2.