Mark Slouka for Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations (Graywolf Press)

The PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay aims to preserve the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature. The winner receives a cash award of $5,000 and will be honored at the PEN Literary Awards.

There are no restrictions on the subject matter of the essays; books are judged solely on the basis of literary character and distinction of writing, and equal consideration is given to the work of both renowned essayists and more recently established writers. Essays may deal either with a range of subjects or may explore one specific theme, but the book, taken as a whole, should be a series of individual essays, not conceived as a single booklength work of nonfiction. Individual essays included in books may have been previously published in magazines, journals, or anthologies.

In 1991 PEN Member and author Barbaralee Diamonstein and Carl Spielvogel, former New York Times columnist, founded the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay to preserve the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature. The award took a hiatus from 2005-2010. Recent recipients of the award are David Bromwich’s Skeptical Music, David Quammen’s The Boilerplate Rhino, Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being, Marilynne Robinson’s The Death of Adam, Adam Hochschild’s Finding the Trapdoor, Cynthia Ozick’s Fame and Folly, Thomas Nagel’s Other Voices: Critical Essays 1969-1994, and Frederick Crews’s The Critics Bear It Away: American Fiction and the Academy.

2011 Judges

Robert Boyers, Janet Malcolm, and Ruth Reichl

From the Judges’ Citation

“A great essay is not an article, or a review, or an occasional piece, but a ‘spiraling inward.’ Mark Slouka begins to prowl around a particular subject without necessarily knowing where he is headed or how he’ll go about getting there, but he always does so with one hope, and with a disarming sense of trust in his medium—that the actual writing will in the end reveal something hitherto unknown. In this sense, Mark Slouka’s collection, Essays from the Nick of Time, is truly adventurous and bold. They are personal essays, but personal in the least ego-driven and most enlightening way, as Slouka uses himself and his own experiences (and ruminations) only in the service of illuminating or illustrating ideas. And for the inquisitive mind, the reading of his essays is an experience in itself. They are literary in the highest term of the word, of brilliant quality and insight, the author’s gifts as a thinker evident on each page. That each essay turns out to be exquisitely articulate and well written simply proves the indissoluble connection between exceptional writing and exceptional thinking. Upon reading them, one has, as with the best poems or the great essays of Montaigne, experienced something quite unforgettable and thoroughly new.”


Elif Batuman for The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Alex Ross for Listen to This (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)