PEN Awards: An Evening of Written Excellence

Dec 3, 2009

On a night when many people were consumed with the tabloid-y coverage of the Tiger Woods infidelity scandal, it was a pleasure to honor authors, artists and writers whose work often represents the antithesis of the low road.

PEN USA, an organization dedicated to promoting excellence in writing across all media, handed out its 19th annual awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel Wednesday night.

HBO’s beloved defender of the documentary, Sheila Nevins, and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Liz Garbus were handed PEN’s First Amendment Award for HBO’s “Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech.”

Garbus teamed with her father, noted First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus, to examine cases of infringement of free speech, including the case of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who made some–shall we say–unpopular statements after 9/11 by blaming the 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. foreign policy. He was dismissed from his job but later won an appeal of wrongful termination.

On the whole, the doc looks at the balancing act between protecting civil liberties and national security in a post-9/11 world, and asks whether all speech is equally “protected.”

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black won a PEN for his screenplay of “Milk,” and favorite Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez took home a glass trophy for his book “The Soloist,” upon which the recent film was made. In accepting the award, Lopez revealed he is still actively involved with the soloist, formerly homeless musician William Ayres, who will be releasing a CD soon—with Lopez’s help.

Legendary crime writer Elmore Leonard, author of such acclaimed works as “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and “Jackie Brown,” accepted the lifetime achievement award from equally legendary film producer Walter Mirisch, and later signed copies of his short, sweet and to-the-point book, “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.” It contains these duly-noted lessons to write by:
Keep your exclamation points under control.
Avoid prologues.
Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

But Mr. Leonard, how else could you describe what just happened to Tiger Woods?

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