Robert HassWhat Light Can Do (Ecco)

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 $10,000 and will be honored at the PEN Literary Awards.

2013 Judges

Sven Birkerts, Robert Gottlieb, and Mark Kramer

From The Judges’ Citation

In the essays of What Light Can Do, Robert Hass not only draws an impressive compass of aesthetic and moral sensibility, but he makes that reach available to the reader through the refinement of his craft. The range of subjects—everything from Wallace Stevens to George Oppen to Immanuel Kant to Peter Dale Scott to Czeslaw Milosz to the landscape photography of Robert Adams—could in other hands be seen as comprising an eccentric miscellany. But Hass is gifted with a probing intellect, a drive to get to the root of whatever question he has raised, as well as a confiding intimacy of address. His writing achieves the specific gravity that comes when close attention is followed by contemplation. Reading the essays, we not only take pleasure in the insightful grace of expression—here is the prose of one of our leading poets—but feel a grounded coherence in its multiplicity.


Jill LeporeThe Story of America (Princeton University Press)

Daniel MendelsohnWaiting for the Barbarians (New York Review Books)

From The Judges’ Citation for The Story of America

The Story of America: Essays on Origins deepens readers’ participation in the public contest over the American past. In a time when politicians offer empty homily as history, Jill Lepore’s Story of America repopulates that past and complicates the meanings of freedom—touching upon, among other topics, the regulation of commerce, the reach of government, the disconnecting of piety and probity, the fading of capital punishment, the rise of gender and racial equality, the swerving of constitutional interpretations. Lepore’s intimate essays weave these issues through the lives of Captain John Smith, Ben Franklin, Noah Webster, Edgar Allan Poe, Kit Carson, Clarence Darrow; even Charlie Chan shows up. Told with erudition and companionable, wry style, they counter myth and cliché, and successfully embody Professor Lepore’s aspiration “to be a keeper of our memory as a people.”

From The Judges’ Citation for Waiting for the Barbarians

No one who these past years has followed the brilliant work of Daniel Mendelsohn in the pages of The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Book Review will be surprised by the extraordinary range of interest this splendid collection reveals. What is so remarkable is the consistency of acuity and sympathy which he brings to all his subjects, whether in the world of his base territory, the classics or his excursions into popular culture, modern literature and what he calls ” Private Lives”—the personal quiddities of such figures as Noel Coward, Susan Sontag and Jonathan Franzen. His thinking is original and disciplined; his writing is clear and pungent. He is, it becomes increasingly clear, one of our major critics.


What Light Can Do (Ecco), Robert Hass

The Story of America (Princeton University Press), Jill Lepore

Waiting for the Barbarians (New York Review Books), Daniel Mendelsohn

Previous Winners

David Bromwich, David Quammen, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robinson, Adam Hochschild, Cynthia Ozick, Thomas Nagel, Frederick Crews, Mark Slouka, and Christopher Hitchens