Robert Lee “Rob” Penny (1941 - 2003) was an American playwright, poet, and professor. Penny was born in Opelika, Alabama on August 6, 1941. He moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Hill District as a toddler, where he was raised. In 1968, he and his friend August Wilson, a fellow Pittsburgh poet and playwright, co-founded the Black Horizon Theatre, which staged performances until the mid-1970s. In 1976, he and Wilson co-founded the Kuntu Writers Workshop, which Penny coordinated until his death on March 16 2003. Dr. Vernell A. Lillie founded the Kuntu Repertory Theatre in 1974 as a way of showcasing Penny’s plays. Penny began teaching at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969 and served as chair of its Africana Studies Department from 1978 1984. Penny wrote more than 30 plays and 300 poems. He was a community activist, freedom fighter, and nationalist. Rob believed that art should be used as an educational vehicle and not just for art’s sake.
This award is to honor of an individual who demonstrates Rob’s quest for knowledge, passion for and understanding of the significance of using the arts for educational purposes, his love and respect for people of the African Diaspora and his appreciation of cultural relevancy.
2009 Rob Penny Lifetime Achievement Award
Valerie Adeniji Lawrence
2008 Rob Penny Lifetime Achievement Awardee
If a poet does not teach the people her song,
who will sing it? - African Proverb
Adeniji Valerie Williams Lawrence is a Yoruba Priestess, guided by the strength and transformative energy of God (Oludumare), and Aganu. She is lifted by the strength and glory of her ancestors and stands tall on their shoulders. Adeniji is an avid reader that has amassed over 1500 titles in her personal library. As a poet, playwright, and creative writer, she is stirred by the brilliance of Morrison, Gaines, Okri, Cooper, Baldwin, Hurston, Hopkinson, Penny, Wilson, and many, many others. Her poetry collections include What’s Your Hair Like After U Wash It?, Bring Back the Drums, and Southern Skies Cry, all published by Magnolia Press. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications including Shooting Star Literary Journal, Catalyst, The Pennsylvania Review, and Beijing and Beyond. Her plays have taken life on the stages of Kuntu Repertory Theatre, The Children’s Festival of Pittsburgh, and in community and educational settings where her publication The Children’s Window, Plays for children, which include original plays and adapted African folktales, was performed. She passionately embraces the rich legacy of African culture represented throughout the Diaspora and in the voice and genius of its elders, and promise of its children. Her knowledge, talent, and scholarship are informed by reading; travel throughout North America, West Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, and in academic achievements- baccalaureate studies in Nursing at Dillard University, B.A. in Communications, Masters in Organization and Leadership Transformation, and current doctoral studies, School of Business, Human Resource focus, at Capella University. Adeniji has experienced the joy of making learning fun and extending imagination of children through tenures as Executive Director of Children’s Window to Africa, and as Poet/Playwright/Creative Writer-in-Residence throughout schools, public and private, in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Adeniji has served as actress, director, dramaturge and playwright for Kuntu Repertory Theatre. Her affiliation and membership with Kuntu Writers Workshop founded by Rob Penny and August Wilson as a program of the Department of African Studies extends beyond 20 years, and contributes greatly to her African centered aesthetics- music, arts, literature, philosophy, and more. Her creative work explores the struggles, spirit and success of African American. families living in America, particularly the deep south, which sometimes seems indistinguishable from ‘up south’ states. She aspires to create literary work that is transformative, restorative, transmitting messages of hope, self-determination, strength and beauty for African peoples, which by virtue of Africans being the mother and father of human civilization, makes her work universal. Hotep means peace.
2007 Rob Penny Lifetime Achievement Awardee