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PEN America announces new Mike Nichols literary award; Kenneth Lonergan named inaugural winner

Kenneth Lonergan
Kenneth Lonergan is the first recipient of a prize named for the late Mike Nichols. PEN America announced Feb. 25 that Lonergan has won the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award.
(Jordan Strauss /Invision/AP)

The nonprofit literary organization PEN America announced on Monday the creation of the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, with playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan named as the inaugural winner.

The award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize, is named in honor of Mike Nichols, the legendary comedian and director known for films such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “The Graduate,” “Silkwood” and “Postcards From the Edge.”

Nichols died in 2014, and is survived by his wife, journalist Diane Sawyer.

Lonergan is an acclaimed playwright and screenwriter. His plays “This Is Our Youth” and “Lobby Hero” were both nominated for Drama Desk Awards for best play.

He made his screenwriting debut with the 1999 comedy “Analyze This,” and the year after that received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay for “You Can Count on Me.” He received another Oscar nod for “Gangs of New York,” and took home the Academy Award for the 2016 film “Manchester by the Sea.”

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said that the organization was “thrilled to honor the indelible legacy of Mike Nichols and his transformative influence on American comedy, film and theatre.”

“Kenneth Lonergan is a tailor-made inaugural honoree whose work pushes boundaries, breaks new thematic and artistic ground, and has inflected our culture in the best tradition of Mike Nichols,” Nossel said.

PEN America said the creation of the new award was inspired by deepening ties to the film and television industry as a result of the addition of a Los Angeles-based office in 2018.

“The Literary Awards program is one of PEN America’s crown jewels,” said the organization’s president, novelist Jennifer Egan. “With more and more writers working powerfully across genres, it’s a special joy to recognize performance as a literary form in partnership with Mike Nichols’ dear friend Lorne Michaels, and the Nichols family.”

The award will be presented to Lonergan at a ceremony in New York on Tuesday evening. The ceremony, hosted by comedian Hari Kondabolu, will also feature other special award winners including Sandra Cisneros, this year’s winner of the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. The winners of 11 other literary prizes will also be announced at the ceremony.