Shawn VestalGodforsaken Idaho (Little A/New Harvest/
Amazon Publishing)

The PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut work—a novel or collection of short stories—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise. The winner receives a cash award of $25,000, a stipend intended to permit a significant degree of leisure in which to pursue a second work of literary fiction. The winner is also encouraged to become an active participant in the PEN community and its programs. 

From the Judges’ Citation

Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho ranges not only across time but across genres—historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary realism—all executed with the sure hand of a versatile and gifted writer. The stories in this debut collection deal in religious and spiritual conundrums; perhaps more impressively, they dare to charge into the well-trodden arena of the hapless male and make that subject fresh again. In exposing the shaggy souls of his beleaguered central characters, Vestal’s eye is as sharp for their goodness as for their weakness; he never lets anyone off the hook, but he maintains, and generates, compassion for the way we bumble through our lives. These nine stories aren’t just moving, they’re also very funny—funny for their pathos, in other words, funny for all the right reasons. Vestal doesn’t go for the cheap laugh but for the sustained comedy of people trying and failing, and trying again. And so it is with real pleasure that the judges award this year’s PEN/Bingham prize to Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho.

2014 Judges

Charles Bock, Jonathan Dee, Fiona Maazel, and Karen Shepard


A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth), Anthony Marra
Brief Encounters With the Enemy (The Dial Press), Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
Everybody’s Irish (FiveChapters Books), Ian Stansel
Godforsaken Idaho (Little A/New Harvest), Shawn Vestal
The People in the Trees (Doubleday), Hanya Yanagihara


A History of the Present Illness (Bloomsbury), Louise Aronson
Middle Men (Simon & Schuster), Jim Gavin
Bogotá (TriQuarterly Books), Alan Grostephan
The Morels (Soho Press Inc.), Christopher Hacker
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth), Anthony Marra
We All Sleep In the Same Room (Rare Bird Books, A Barnacle Book), Paul Rome
Brief Encounters With the Enemy (The Dial Press), Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
Everybody’s Irish (FiveChapters Books), Ian Stansel
Godforsaken Idaho (Little A/New Harvest), Shawn Vestal
The People in the Trees (Doubleday), Hanya Yanagihara

Past winners

Carolyn Cooke, Matthew Klam, Manil Suri, Jonathan Safran Foer, Will Heinrich, Monique Truong, Christopher Coake, Janna Levin, Dalia Sofer, Donald Ray Pollock, Paul Harding, Danielle Evans, Susanna Daniel, Vanessa Veselka, and Sergio De La Pava.

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