Seth Meyers to honor Elaine May, Ngugi wa Thiong’o at PEN America Literary Awards

Elaine May, Jackie Sibblies Druryand  Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Elaine May, left, Jackie Sibblies Drury and Ng˜ug˜i wa Thiong’o are winners of PEN’s career-achievement awards.
(Alberto E. Rodriguez; Mark Abramson; Simone Padovani / Getty Images)

Seth Meyers will return to host what he describes as “the Oscars for books.”

The comedian and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” star, dubbed “an influential recommender of books” by the New York Times, will anchor this year’s PEN America Literary Awards on Feb. 28 at New York’s Town Hall.

The first in-person PEN awards ceremony since the pandemic began in 2020 will honor the winners of PEN’s career-achievement awards: Broadway and Hollywood icon Elaine May will receive the $25,000 PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award, named in honor of her long-ago partner in comedy. Acclaimed Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, author of “A Grain of Wheat” and “Weep Not, Child” and a perennial Nobel Prize contender, will take home the $50,000 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. And Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury, writer of “Fairview” and “Marys Seacole,” will be presented the $10,000 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award.


Finalists for the prizes, whose winners will be announced March 17, include books by Hanif Abdurraqib, Torrey Peters, Sam Quinones and Sarah Hall.

Jan. 20, 2022

Winners of 11 book prizes in categories including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, translation and science writing will be announced during the ceremony, which will feature live music, readings from selected award-winning works, and an In Memoriam segment paying tribute to literary legends who’ve died in the last year.

Finalists for the awards to be announced include books by Carribean Fragoza, Percival Everett, Torrey Peters, Ann Patchett and Clint Smith.

In a press release, PEN America President Ayad Akhtar called May and Thiong’o “trailblazers” and “extraordinary commentators of our times, and of the enduring poignancies of the human condition,” and commended Drury for her “electric, expansive reflections of our fraught world” through her “relentless, inspired experiments” in contemporary theater.

After two years of virtual literary events, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, the organization’s senior director of literary programs, said PEN America is “thrilled to rally the community again in person for this extraordinary celebration of literary talent and triumph.”

Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased at