Larissa FastHorse was awarded the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award at the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony. Watch her speech and read the transcript below.


First off, thank you to my wonderful actors, both indigenous actors who live here in New York City. I’m a big crybaby, so I’m working on it. As you all know, the tagline of PEN America is The Freedom to Write, and I actually had to look up to definition of the word freedom. Freedom, the definition is the power to act, write, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

As I was thinking about tonight, I realized how many freedoms I’ve been given so that I can stand here and accept this amazing award. For me, freedom means having parents, Edmond and Rhoda Bear, who believed in my dreams without question. It means my partner Ed Hogan sometimes sacrificing his own art to free me to pursue opportunities. It means my agent Johnathan Mills encouraging me to have the freedom to say no more than yes, to be sure that I could be the kind of artist that I wanted to be. It also means having artistic director commission me, a completely untrained, self-taught Native American woman, to write plays long before the phrase diversity, equity, and inclusion existed in our field. It means having directors and dramaturges that believed in my voice so strongly that I never feared it being hindered or restrained. It means actors who give their whole selves to create living characters and so many audience members who come to my work and let it challenge them and change them.

However, one of the biggest freedoms that I have is being a member of the Sicangu-Lakota nation. That’s a sovereign nation within the borders of the United States of America. That is the freedom that gives me dual citizenship and legal promises from the American government, but many of the original people of this continent do not have that same freedom. They are fighting to have a federal classification of extinct removed so that they can legally be free to exist. I will say that again: The government has told them that legally these people do not exist.

I know we’re here to celebrate, and I am so grateful to PEN America for this award and to the judges: Jacob Padron, Condola Rashad, and Craig Lucas, who has a special place in my heart for so many reasons, the least of which is his writing. But in celebrating all of us who do have the freedom to act, speak, or think without hindrance, I encourage us to remember that many people right here in America, the original people of America, do not share those same freedoms. Let’s all use our freedoms to help fight for theirs. Wopila.