“Lena Horne paved the way,” said Tina Knowles-Lawson. “She moved the movement forward for black women.”
Ms. Knowles-Lawson was at Town Hall last Friday for its first Lena Horne Prize ceremony, which honored her daughter Solange Knowles for her social activism.
The festivities began at the Steinway & Sons piano showroom, before moving down the block to the historic hall, which was built by suffragists in 1921, for performances by Andra Day, Angelique Kidjo, Rapsody and others.
Among those on the red carpet were Ms. Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, and granddaughter Jenny Lumet. (Ms. Horne, a pioneering singer and actress, died in 2010 at the age of 92.)
“My grandmother ate a Snickers bar with a knife and fork, and she drank her Hennessy from a ‘Sesame Street’ mug,” Ms. Lumet said. “She had an entire drawer of false eyelashes that I thought were spiders, she had an assortment of turbans with bangs in them, and she had this endless supply of really weird grandma candy.”
Younger guests talked about how they connected with Ms. Horne’s legacy. For Common, it was her music; for Yance Ford, a filmmaker, it was her star turn in “The Wiz”; for BJ the Chicago Kid, it was her appearance on “The Cosby Show.”
Ms. Knowles did not grant interviews on her way into the event. But her mother said that Ms. Knowles had been an agent for social change since childhood. “From 12 years old she was an activist,” Ms. Knowles-Lawson said. “She started a petition at her school to get rid of a teacher that was terrible. I was very proud of her.”
Did the petition work? “It did not,” she said. “But it made the teacher change her attitude.”
Three nights later, it was PEN America’s turn at Town Hall, this time to dole out the organization’s literary awards.
“Tonight is like the Oscars if they only gave out awards for screenplays and documentaries,” said Seth Meyers, who took the stage shortly after 8 p.m. “But unlike the Oscars, you guys got a host.”
More than 20 people were honored, included Tom Stoppard, the playwright, who accepted a prize named after Mike Nichols, the director with whom he often collaborated. “It’s different from most awards in that it’s something which one is receiving from one’s peers: fellow writers,” Mr. Stoppard said backstage. “And, as such, it’s quite overwhelming.”
Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski and Kenneth Lonergan presented Mr. Stoppard’s award, as Diane Sawyer, Mr. Nichols’s widow, watched from the audience with friends including Candice Bergen, Steve Martin, Bryan Lourd and Lorne Michaels.
Other awards went to Tanya Barfield, the playwright, as well as to two poets: M. NourbeSe Philip and Rigoberto González. “Poetry is risk taking of the highest order, and nobody pays you a living for that,” said Ms. Philip.
Among the eight competitive awards, the evening’s biggest prize was the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, which comes with $75,000. It went to Yiyun Li for her novel “Where Reasons End.”
Applauding her from the audience were fellow writers including Emily Nussbaum, Jia Tolentino, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Rebecca Makkai, Kali Fajardo-Anstine and Bryan Washington.
After the ceremony, guests strolled to the after-party at the Ribbon, a restaurant on West 44th Street. Mr. Michaels had reserved a private dining room there for some of his famous friends. No reporters were allowed in that room, suggesting PEN America’s motto, “Freedom to Write,” has its limits.