Robert K. MassieCatherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House)

The PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography is awarded for excellence in the art of biography. This prize of $5,000 will go to the author of a distinguished work published in the United States during the previous calendar year. The winning title should be a work of exceptional literary, narrative and artistic merit, based on scrupulous research.

2012 Judges

Blake Bailey, Daphne Merkin, and Honor Moore

From the Judges’ Citation

Catherine the Great rescues its subject from many of the mythologies that have attached to her as a powerful woman, and manages to bring her and many of her coterie to vivid life. Robert Massie’s grasp of the nuances of Russian history is extraordinary and his capacity to illuminate Catherine’s considerable achievements, dramatize her relationships with the European intelligentsia of the period, and follow the trail of her large and extended network of royal relations, makes for a richly complex and immensely readable narrative. Massie has a gift for teasing out the piquant detail and a light but psychologically penetrating touch when it comes to depicting character. Catherine the Great demonstrates the art of biography as its most polished and informed.”


Janny ScottA Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother

“Stanley Ann Dunham, a white woman from Kansas, would have seemed remarkable even if she had not been the mother of our first African-American president. Idealistic, independent, and somewhat wayward too, the seventeen-year-old Dunham married a black Kenyan (who, unknown to her, was already married to a Kenyan woman) at a time when such marriages were widely outlawed in the United States, then spent much of her adult life in Indonesia as an anthropologist while sending her gifted son to be educated in Hawaii. Janny Scott, a former reporter for the New York Times, traveled all over the world (and interviewed Barack Obama at the White House) to reconstruct an incredible and all-too-brief life that has, obliquely, affected us all. An astonishing work of reportage.”

Past Winners

Janet Malcolm, Richard Brody, Michael Scammell, and Stacy Schiff