Alumnus Jeffrey James Keyes ’10 wins the PEN America/L’Engle-Rahman Prize for Mentorship

Robbie Armstrong
November 19, 2020

Alumnus Jeffrey James Keyes ’10 was honored with the PEN America/L’Engle-Rahman Prize for Mentorship last week. The PEN America/L’Engle-Rahman Prize for Mentorship honors four mentor/mentee pairs in PEN America’s prison writing mentorship program, which links established writers with those currently incarcerated. The Award is named after the late acclaimed author Madeleine L’Engle and her 10-year written friendship with scholar, writer, and former Black Party leader Ahmad Rahman. Each winner will receive a cash prize and a set of books chosen by their respective mentor/mentee.

Keyes expressed his gratitude in an essay on PEN America’s website

“Over the past few years, I’ve become a tremendous fan and champion of the PEN America Prison and Justice Writing Program. I wanted to become a mentor because I wanted to give back to other writers, but I didn’t know how. In a public service announcement in support of National Mentoring Month, the late great Maya Angelou stated, ‘In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care...know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.’ I was fortunate to have many great mentors. The tips and notes these mentors provided me were instrumental in helping me to grow into the artist I am today, and gave me the confidence and courage to create and embark on a profession in the creative arts.”

Keyes was paired with Elizabeth Hawes in a relationship that he described as a serendipitous mentorship opportunity. Hawes is an actor, gardener, playwright, poet, and prisoner in Minnesota. She has received three national prison writing awards and one Fielding A. Dawson Award from PEN America. She enjoys taking college classes and watching other people cook. In her piece Exposure, Hawes writes, “Writing as a prisoner ties their name to the label of a felon. A prisoner must ask themselves, am I willing to put myself out there? To possibly be talked about (again)? To be judged (again)? And, more importantly, is this the story/play/poem/idea worth my vulnerability?” Keyes called Hawes’ writing electric and stated that the partnership allowed him to work with a voice who is a necessary voice of this generation. 

Keyes co-authored the New York Times bestseller Killer Chef with James Patterson. His plays have been developed and featured at SoHo Playhouse, the Old Vic/Old Vic New Voices, 59E59, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Laguna Beach High School, Rogue Machine Theatre and the Prologue Theatre. He contributes travel and lifestyle features for Metrosource MagazinePassport MagazineManAboutWorld, and Q Digital. Jeffrey additionally writes/produces short films and has recently started working in Virtual Reality. He is a recipient of the Artists’ Patron Fund’s 2019 Gold Award and wrote the script for Digital Arrest, which took the top prize in the Creative Technology category at the NYC Media Lab 2019 Demo Expo.