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Break Out: A 2020 PEN America Prison Writing Awards Celebration

Artwork by Halim Flowers in the background; event details and logos on top

In difficult times, we turn to the wisdom of writers. Join PEN America—in a special partnership with TheaterLab—in celebrating the release of the 2020 PEN America Prison Writing Awards Anthology. This community-centered, interactive virtual viewing of exceptional work from currently incarcerated writers is brought to life by a dynamic array of authors, actors, and activists—live from the living room stage—during an atmosphere of extreme isolation.

Recognizing the extraordinary circumstances of our pandemic era, we also acknowledge that, in normal times, this overwhelming isolation and uncertainty defines life behind bars—and that the devastation of COVID-19 in correctional facilities has only exaggerated this detachment. In addition to the prize-winning literature, our event will feature a series of “pandemic letters” written by our awarded authors. These relevant-to-the-moment literary glimpses serve to ground us in the dire context of our larger world events.

Performers curated by Lanie Zipoy of TheaterLab will read the works of 2020 Prison Writing Contest winners Jeffery Young, Demetrius A. Buckley, Juan Moreno Haines, David A. Pickett, Amy Bishop Anderson, Matthew Mendoza, Nick Browning, Elizabeth Hawes, Terry Hedin, P.M. Dunne, C. Fausto Cabrera, Mark Altenhofen, Jason Centrone, and Matthew Feeney. Read more about the performers below.

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Event Curator

Lanie Zipoy headshotLanie Zipoy is a Memphis-born, New York-based director and creative producer working in film and theater. Her feature film directorial debut, The Subject, starring Jason Biggs, Emmy Award nominee Aunjanue Ellis, and Anabelle Acosta, won Best Narrative Feature Film awards from Lighthouse International Film Festival, DC Black Film Festival, BronzeLens Film Festival, and The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival. Zipoy took home Best Director Awards from The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival and the Newark International Film Festival. She received the Mira Nair Rising Female Filmmaker Award from the Harlem International Film Festival.


Nick Abeel headshotNick Abeel is honored to be a part of the wonderful work of PEN America. Abeel is an actor, writer, comedian, mime, and voice over artist living in Brooklyn. He co-founded the comedy company Recent Cutbacks and is a performing company member of Broken Box Mime Theater. You can follow him on Instagram @nickabeel.

Claudia Acosta HeadshotClaudia Acosta is a theater actor, director, writer, and teaching artist. Recent New York credits include The Swell (audio theater experience), Refracted Theatre Company; Seven Spots in The Sun, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater; Architecture of Becoming, WP Theater at City Center; Don Cristóbal Billy Club Man, HERE Arts Center. She is a founding member of The Sol Project. Acosta is a teaching artist for Lincoln Center Education, Arts Connection, MTC, and New York Theatre Workshop.

Kaveh Akbar headshotKaveh Akbar’s poems appear in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New Republic, Best American Poetry, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James/Penguin UK 2017) and a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, published by Sibling Rivalry. The recipient of a Levis Reading Prize and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, Akbar is the founding editor of Divedapper, a home for interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry.

Kersti Bryan headshotKersti Bryan is thrilled to be part of the PEN Prison Writing Awards. Select theater credits: Ensemble Studio Theatre, Theaterlab, New York Classical Theatre, New Jersey Repertory Company, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Moscow Art Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Select TV/film credits: Hustlers, FBI: Most Wanted, Ray Donovan, All Rise, New Amsterdam, Lincoln Rhyme, Elementary, Drop Dead Diva, Actor Seeks Role, Hell’s Heart. @kerstidanger

McCaleb Burnett headshotMcCaleb Burnett is an actor based in NYC. Select theater credits: The Normal Heart (Public), A Little Journey (Mint), Stay (Rattlestick), Under the Blue Sky (Geffen), A Summer’s Day (Cherry Lane/Rattlestick), Wintertime (McCarter), The Real Thing (Southcoast), Luck of the Irish (Huntington). Select film credits: Justin Lin’s Annapolis, Finishing the Game, and Fast and Furious. Also: The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Revenant, Immigration Tango, Beatbox, Mutual Friends, Easy Living, If I’d Known I Was a Genius, How We Got Away With It (co-writer), Tigertail, among others. Select TV credits: Burnett has worked extensively on most networks, including NBC, ABC, CBS, USA Network, SHOWTIME, Netflix, among others. Most recently: Limitless, The Good Fight, Daredevil, and the upcoming miniseries Release (Netflix). Burnett holds a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and is a graduate of New York University’s Grad Acting program. He is also a Gary Kalkin fellow and company member of Rising Phoenix Repertory.

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo headshotMarcelo Hernandez Castillo is a poet, essayist, translator, and immigration advocate. He is the author of the collection Cenzontle (2018), which won the 2017 A. Poulin Jr. Prize, and the chapbook Dulce (2018). His memoir, Children of the Land (2020), is his most recent publication. His work has appeared or been featured in The New York Times, PBS Newshour, People Magazine en Español, The Paris Review, Fusion TV, Buzzfeed, Gulf Coast, New England Review, and Indiana Review, among others. He currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University.

Corral Eduardo headshotEduardo C. Corral is the son of Mexican immigrants. He’s the author of Guillotine (Graywolf Press) and Slow Lightning, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. He’s the recipient of a Whiting Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. He teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State University.

Steve Jones headshotSteve Jones is thrilled and honored to be working for the first time with PEN America and to help amplify these beautifully important voices. Originally from New Jersey, Jones is an actor and an educator in NYC, appearing on Broadway stages, off-Broadway, and regionally. Jones also teaches Shakespeare at New York University and the Stella Adler School. “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” —Hafiz

Rachel McKibbens headshotRachel McKibbens is a two-time New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and author of three full-length books of poetry: Pink Elephant, Into The Dark & Emptying Field, and blud. In 2012, McKibbens founded The Pink Door Writing Retreat, an annual writing intensive space open exclusively to non-men writers of color. McKibbens is a member of the WOC•Arts Collaborative and co-curates the critically acclaimed reading series Poetry & Pie Night.

Greg McMurray headshotGreg McMurray is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. His book, Ft. Nonsense, NJ, about Thomas Paine and Revolutionary America, was recently published by Touchdown Press.

Alyssa McNinch headshotAlyssa McNinch is a 12-year-old performer from Memphis, TN. From an early age, McNinch enjoyed the experience of performing in front of others. McNinch began to refine her skills at Theatre Memphis and karaoke nights at local restaurants, and through participating in plays led by her school. As a member of honor choir, theater club, beta club, and the cheer team, McNinch has maintained straight As in all her exceptional classes. She aspires to be a singer/actress as well as a Broadway performer.

Evan Maltby headshotEvan Maltby is an actor, poet, and prison abolitionist. Recent New York credits: Only Human (Theatre at St.Clement’s); Rent (The Secret Theatre); Assassins (Theater 2020); Puffs, KEVIN!!!!!, Kapow-i GoGo (Peoples Improv Theater). Regional credits: Rent, Sweet Charity, Big River, Jerry Finnegan’s Sister. Film credits: People People, Lucy and the Stars. Maltby has done readings/workshops with Playwrights Horizons, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Lark, En Garde Arts, Pipeline Theatre Company, Ma-Yi Theater Company, and more. He is also the voice of ya boy Guzma on Pokémon. Instagram: @maltbysfalcon, Twitter: @evanmaltby

Christine Renee Miller headshotChristine Renee Miller is an actress, writer, and director. She can be seen in her critically acclaimed solo show, Such Nice Shoes, as well as on For Life (ABC, recurring), Search Party (HBO Max), Blue Bloods (CBS, recurring), BULL (CBS), Alpha House (Amazon), and old school shows like Sister, Sister, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Moesha, Party of Five, and others.

Elvis Nolasco headshotElvis Nolasco made his film debut when cast by Spike Lee in Clockers with Mekhi Phifer and Delroy Lindo. He began building an impressive resume, which includes his critically acclaimed role in the film In Search of a Dream, still one of the highest grossing independent Latino films. Nolasco had roles in Spike Lee’s features The Sweet Blood of Jesus and Old Boy and was seen in 2018 alongside Mahershala Ali in the Forest Whitaker and Pharrell-produced Netflix feature Roxanne Roxanne from director Michael Larnell (2017 Sundance Premiere). Nolasco recurred in the Spike Lee series Miracle Boys,  shot a series regular role in Spike Lee’s HBO pilot Da Brick (executive produced and written by John Ridley) and shot a lead role in the Kathryn Bigelow/Carolyn Strauss-produced HBO project Mogadishu, MN. Nolasco was lauded for his performance in his starring roles on the critically-acclaimed, award-winning ABC anthology series American Crime, also from John Ridley. He also memorably recurred in the Netflix/Spike Lee series She’s Gotta Have It (based on the film of the same name), where he plays Papa da Mayor. Nolasco can currently be seen in Tarell McCraney’s series David Makes Man, and opposite Forest Whitaker in the EPIX series Godfather of Harlem. He also recently had recurring roles on TNT’s Claws and the Greg Berlanti series ​All American.

Markia Pankey headshotMarkia Pankey is grateful and thanks God for the opportunity to do what she is passionate about. She has a MFA degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Her most recent productions include plays at Lionheart Theatre Company, Porter Sanford III Performing Arts & Community Center, River Center, 14th Street Playhouse, and Seby Jones Fine Arts Theater. She thanks her husband Lamar, family, and friends for their tremendous love and support.

Tanis Parenteau headshotTanis Parenteau is an actor/producer and member of the Métis Nation of Alberta (Cree). TV credits: Billions, FBI: Most Wanted, Designated Survivor, House of Cards. Parenteau has performed at the Public Theater, Signature Theatre, 59E59 Theaters, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She does voice-over work and narrates audiobooks for Penguin Random House, Audible, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster. She holds a master of fine arts in acting from the School of Drama at The New School and a bachelor of physical education from the University of Alberta. Parenteau is on the Red House Studios team developing a series titled Red House and co-hosts a podcast called “Not Invisible: Native Womxn on the Frontlines.” She is the events and media manager at the American Indian Community House and runs the Fit Native TV program and the Native American Industry Roster.

Kristin McCarthy Parker headshotKristin McCarthy Parker is the director of Matt Cox’s Puffs (off-Broadway at New World Stages) and Kapow-i GoGo (Peoples Improv Theater). She is also the director and cofounder of Recent Cutbacks, whose work includes the critically-acclaimed comedies Hold On To Your Butts (Time Out New York Top 10 Comedy of the Year), Fly You Fools, and KEVIN!!!!!. Recent projects include Monsoon Season (All For One/Rattlestick Playwrights Theater/Edinburgh Festival Fringe) and the filmed Zoom experiment, Zoomhog Day.

Morgan Parker headshotMorgan Parker is a poet, essayist, and novelist. She is the author of the young adult novel Who Put This Song On? and the poetry collections Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, and Magical Negro (which won the 2019 California Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award). She lives in Los Angeles.

Suzy PetchEam headshotA graduate of Pace University with a BFA in acting, Suzy PetchEam currently serves as the director of outreach field programs at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. She manages several large-scale educational theater programs at Phoenix House, Rikers Island, and through the Department of Education. She manages Outside In, an arts reentry program for formerly incarcerated men and women. She has appeared in productions of Taming of the Shrew, Trojan Woman, Company, Picnic, and her own one woman show, Twinkie at the Producers Club. She was most recently seen as Polina in The Seagull as part of the Harold Clurman Lab at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. She believes in arts education for all and that theater can save lives. She continues to bring hope, love, and theater to underserved communities.

Maria Mimosa Samuel headshotMaria Mimosa Samuel is an actor and teaching artist. She started out as a dancer in Finland, then continued to pursue her career in Sweden in dance and musical theater. Maria Mimosa Samuel moved to New York in 2018 and will be graduating from the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, where she also volunteers for the studio’s outreach division. Continually exploring the healing power of her art, Mary Mimosa Samuel is excited to relaunch her career in New York.

Greg Stuhr headshotGreg Stuhr’s Broadway credits include Larry David’s Fish In the Dark, Elaine May’s Taller Than a Dwarf, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Stuhr has performed at Steppenwolf Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, and the Atlantic Theater Company. He stars in and co-wrote with director Jenna Ricker the acclaimed indie film The American Side, and produced the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Qualified, also directed by Ricker. Stuhr co-created the comedy series Luba’s Lot for Fox.

Christine Verleny headshotChristine Verleny is a Brooklyn-based actor and is thrilled to be speaking the beautiful words of Amy Bishop Anderson. Recent credits include the feature films Mother and The Sister Karras (in post-production). She co-produced the short film Kill Al (a #MeToo-themed sci-fi thriller) with her husband. Kill Al has won numerous awards and is now available on Amazon Prime along with her comedies Cut, Don’t Cut and Siren’s Song.

Colin Waitt headshotColin Waitt is an actor, writer, and producer. Performing highlights include Pool Play (International Theater Festival of Kerala, India), Kapow-i Gogo (Peoples Improv Theater), and The Mysteries (The Flea Theater). As a writer, Waitt was a member of Arthouse Productions’ INKubator playwriting group. His work has been produced by the Peoples Improv Theater, The Tank, This is Not a Theater Company, Dixon Place, BarnArts Center for the Arts, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Producing highlights include Puffs, Kapow-i Gogo, and Serials.

Libby Zambrano headshotLibby Zambrano has been performing improv for the last 15 years and is a singer, actor, and voice-over artist. Voice-over credits include Impulse Theater, Colorado Nonprofit Association, and her favorite gig: recording children’s books for her niece. Zambrano trained with Marla Kirban as well as the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Impulse Theater, and the Peoples Improv Theater.

Matt Zambrano headshotMatt Zambrano is a Latino actor, writer, director, teaching artist, mime, ordained reverend, and spoken word artist who hails from Denver, CO. He moved to New York in 2012 after receiving his MFA in acting from the prestigious National Theatre Conservatory, and is a company member of Broken Box Mime Theater, Recent Cutbacks, and the Story Pirates in New York City.