PEN New England

PEN new england


“Literature is the best thing humanity has. Poetry is the heart of literature, the highest concentration of everything that is the best in the world and in man. It is the only true food for your soul.”  
Lyudmila Ulitskaya



We are a chapter of PEN American Center, part of a global association of writers celebrating literature and defending free expression. We make our home at the MIT School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences.

2012 PEN/LYRICS AWARD Honorees

In 2012, PEN New England assembled an all-star awards committee—including Bono, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Paul Muldoon, Smokey Robinson, Paul Simon, Salmon Rushdie, and committee chair Bill Flanagan—to bestow a long-awaited award celebrating literary excellence in song lyrics. They selected Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen as the first two recipients. 

The ceremony was held February 26th at the JFK Library. Honorees were joined by Elvis Costello, and special guests including Tom Perrotta, Salman Rushdie, Shawn Colvin, Paul Simon, and Keith Richards. Read more:



Take what we used to refer to as a boy and a girl and set them down in an automobile, front seat or back, and you have the essence of rock’n’roll. That realization was Chuck Berry’s great gift to our culture. He helped people in the U.S. make sense of themselves. He also helped people like me in Ireland who knew in our hearts we belonged in the U.S. make sense of ourselves. What a thrill to honor one of the inventors of a genre that has quietly outlived so many of its loudest critics.
— Paul Muldoon

Chuck Berry is one of the pioneers of rock and roll music, and writer of the hits "Promised Land," "Maybellene," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music," "Johnny B. Goode," "No Particular Place to Go," "You Never Can Tell," and "Nadine." His distinctive guitar style, narratively rich lyrics, and lively showmanship influenced generations of musicians, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and helped transform the sound and appearance of popular music for years to come. Commenting on the breadth of Berry's influence, John Lennon famously said, "if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." 

Leonard Cohen

As for Leonard Cohen, I got into conversation with an usher during the intermission at one of his New York concerts a couple of years ago. I asked her how she liked the show. She liked it okay, she confessed, but wondered what kind of music this was. I said I was pretty sure it was the best kind. I’m still pretty sure of that.
— Paul Muldoon

Leonard Cohen is a poet, novelist, and singer songwriter famous for writing and recording such classic songs as "Bird on a Wire," "Suzanne," "So Long, Marianne," "Sisters of Mercy," "Chelsea Hotel #2," "Everybody Knows," and "Hallelujah." His poems have earned wide acclaim, and Michael Ondaatje called Cohen's 1966 cult novel Beautiful Losers "the most vivid, fascinating and brave modern novel I have read."

Watch the 2012 Ceremony


Bono, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Bill Flanagan, Paul Muldoon, Smokey Robinson, Salman Rushdie, Paul Simon, and Peter Wolf.