Monday at the Magnificent 2013 PEN Literary Awards

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There was a changing of the guard before Monday’s magnificent PEN 2013 Literary Awards ceremony as underslept, overcaffeinated students shuffled out of the CUNY Graduate and dressed up literary honorees and guests made their way in.

The quite funny Andy Borowitz served as master of ceremonies. “My job as emcee is to move us as quickly as possible to the best part of the evening: the reception,” he said.

“There’s a paradox about writers. When we’re facing a blank page we sometimes struggle to come up with words, but put us in front of a microphone and we could be here all fucking night.”

Heeding Borowitz’s instruction, the award winners delivered speeches that were gracious, genuine, and snappy. Katherine Boo, who won the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction also won for brevity. She gave quick thanks to PEN and her editors before saying, “I donate the rest of my 90 seconds to the party.” Other winners included Sergio De La Pava, Tom Reiss, and Robert Hass.

The last award of the night went to the great Larry Kramer, who was honored as Master American Dramatist. Mark Ruffalo, who will be starring in the HBO adaptation of Kramer’s The Normal Heart, and presented the award. (Yes, he is even better looking in person, thanks for asking.) Kramer was given a signed first edition copy of Eugene O’Neill’s collected plays from PEN and two standing ovations from the audience. Addressing the crowd, his voice was weak, but his words not so. “We simply have to think bigger as writers,” Kramer said.

“We have to push our talent as far as it can go and then some. We have to reach for the moon and the stars. Hard as it may be, we have to try and change the world.”

Full of admiration and general good feelings, the formal ceremony gave way to a packed reception outside the auditorium doors. The open bar was mighty busy, and floor space became even scarcer as more PEN friends arrived. After the early shutdown at the official venue, doubtless there were many after and after-after parties rolling into the wee hours. Congratulations PEN on a winning night. It was worth a Tuesday hangover.

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