PEN America awards honor Ava DuVernay, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman


Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, songwriter Diane Warren and authors Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon were among the honorees at the PEN America LitFest Gala, an annual event sponsored by the literary nonprofit group.

DuVernay, director of “Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “When They See Us,” received the group’s Voice of Influence Award on Friday in Beverly Hills.

“To write, to create, to hold space, to represent and establish representation for others, to do these things, especially at this time, is a radical act,” DuVernay said.


Warren, whose songs have included “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” took home PEN’s America’s Artistic Expression Award.

Warren was accompanied onstage by “This Is Us” actress Chrissy Metz, who sang Warren’s “I’m Standing With You” as a tribute to the songwriter. It was the first musical performance at a LitFest Gala in 29 years, PEN America said.

“These songs are passports,” Warren said. “They got me here tonight.”

Waldman and Chabon, along with Susannah Grant and Sarah Timberman, were honored with the Award for Television Excellence for their work on the Netflix miniseries “Unbelievable.”

Also honored were Los Angeles lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who received PEN’s Distinguished Leadership Award, and journalist Julie K. Brown, who received the PEN/Dan Eldon Courage in Journalism Award. Brown’s reporting at the Miami Herald is widely credited with leading to the arrest of the late Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges.

Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue received the Screenplay Excellence Award for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a biopic about children’s television host Fred Rogers. The upcoming film stars Tom Hanks as Rogers.


PEN America Los Angeles was known as Pen Center USA until it merged with PEN America in 2018. LitFest is one of two major galas that PEN America sponsors. PEN also hosts an annual literary awards ceremony; the next one is scheduled for Feb. 13.