Ruth Ellen Kocher, domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press)

Nina McConigley, Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books)

The PEN Open Book Award was created by PEN American Center’s Open Book Committee, a group committed to racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities. The award confers a $5,000 prize upon an author of color.

2014 Judges

Catherine Chung, Randa Jarrar, and Monica Youn

From the Judges’ Citation for domina Un/blued

In domina Un/blued, Ruth Ellen Kocher layers culture on culture–the American quotidian on top of modern-day Italian on top of the remnants of Roman civilization–a palimpsestic technique that highlights how supposedly extinct contours and patterns bleed through to the present day. The primary subject of this collection is a monstrous one–slavery–and Kocher approaches it backwards, holding a mirror. This oblique approach allows us to triangulate our way to truths that remain unavailable to the standard histories, the way the heritage of slavery continues to shape our society. Kocher’s formal innovations reflect unexpected angles on her subject, and surprise us everywhere–in architectural details, in questions of translation, in the dilemmas of sexual intimacy. These repeating images and themes echo through the white space of these poems, creating resonances that are both rigorous and sensuous.

From the Judges’ Citation for Cowboys and East Indians

In Cowboys and East Indians, Nina McConigley gives us Wyoming precisely the way we expect it—in landscape, sky, and animal life—and in ways we don’t. The inhabitants of this surprising, thrilling, and richly textured short story collection are unpredictable, both in their actions and identities. A cross-dresser, a kleptomaniacal foreign exchange student, a disabled mother, and others share a domestic setting—featuring trailers that look like dollhouses, motels whose rooms are identical, no matter the city they’re in—reflecting the stuckness and wanderlust of the collection’s characters, who are insider/outsiders in every sense. In these stories, McConigley has shaped a work destined to be a classic, like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Its characters—Indians in America, Americans in India, and Indian-Americans in both places—echo Vonnegut’s statement that “Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” It’s electrifying to be out on the edge with this book.


Duppy Conqueror (Copper Canyon Press), Kwame Dawes
Leaving Tulsa (University of Arizona Press), Jennifer Elise Foerster
domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press), Ruth Ellen Kocher
Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books), Nina McConigley
Ghana Must Go (Penguin Press), Taiye Selasi


Southern Cross the Dog (Ecco), Bill Cheng
Duppy Conqueror (Copper Canyon Press), Kwame Dawes
Leaving Tulsa (University of Arizona Press), Jennifer Elise Foerster
The Cineaste (W.W. Norton & Company), A. Van Jordan
domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press), Ruth Ellen Kocher
Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books), Nina McConigley
A Tale for the Time Being (Viking Adult), Ruth Ozeki
Ghana Must Go (Penguin Press), Taiye Selasi

*Ed Pavlic’s collection of poetry, Visiting Hours at the Color Line (Milkweed Editions) was mistakenly submitted for the PEN Open Book Award by the publisher and passed forward to the 2014 judging panel, who selected the title for this year’s longlist announcement. This title does not, in fact, meet the eligibility criteria specified in the online guidelines and so it has been removed from consideration. PEN apologizes for any confusion this has created and will rectify the vetting process accordingly for its 2015 submissions process.

Past winners

Meena Alexander, Luis Francia, Joy Harjo, Victor LaValle, Nelly Rosario, Laila Halaby, Suki Kim, Nasdijj, Willie Perdomo, April Reynolds, Faith Adiele, Raquel Cepeda, Lan Samantha Chang, Lolita Hernandez, Ishle Yi Park, Richard Blanco, Andrew Lam, Ed-Bok Lee, Caryl Phillips, Jennifer Tseng, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ernest Hardy, Harryette Mullen, Alberto Ríos, Chris Abani, Amiri Baraka, Frances Hwang, Naeem Murr, Joseph M. Marshall III, Uwem Akpan, Juan Felipe Herrera, Lily Hoang, Sherwin Bitsui, Robin D.G. Kelley, Canyon Sam, Manu Joseph, Siddhartha Deb, Gina Apostol and Kevin Young.

Click here for additional information, including submission guidelines, for the award.