The Bellwether Prize was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. Established by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000 and funded entirely by her, it is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winning novel is chosen by a panel of three judges: one editor representing the participating publisher, Algonquin, and two distinguished literary authors selected by PEN’s Literary Awards Committee in consultation with Barbara Kingsolver. Entries are judged blindly, to avoid any form of bias; the identities of the authors of the submissions are not known by any judge until after the decision is finalized. The author of the winning manuscript is awarded a prize of $25,000 and a publishing contract with Algonquin Books (and an advance).
All winners and finalists for this award are eligible to receive PEN America’s official winner or finalist seal. If you are a publisher of a shortlisted or winning book for this award and are interested in obtaining PEN’s award seal, please write to email@example.com.
Featured Honoree: Lisa Ko, 2016 Winner
From the judges’ citation: One morning Chinese-American immigrant Peilan Gao leaves for work and doesn’t come back. Soon, her son Deming finds himself adopted by a Caucasian family and renamed Daniel Wilkinson, incorporated into a culture nothing like the one he’s known and loved, while puzzling over why his mother might have left him. Following these narrative threads, The Leavers asks whether a child is better served being raised by adoptive parents with English fluency and economic privilege, or with his family and culture of origin, despite having fewer educational and financial resources. A novel that draws links between economic migration and the adoption industry, The Leavers is, as Laila Lalami says, “A rich and sensitive portrait of lives lived across borders, cultures, and languages . . . one of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year.”
2016 Lisa Ko, The Leavers (Algonquin Books)
2010* Naomi Benaron, Running the Rift (Algonquin Books)
2008* Heidi W. Durrow, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books)
2006* Hillary Jordan, Mudbound (Algonquin Books)
2004* Marjorie Kowalski Cole, Correcting the Landscape (HarperCollins)
2002* Gayle Brandeis, The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins)
2000* Donna Gershten, Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth (HarperCollins)
*(Prior to 2012, the Bellwether Prize was administered independently from the PEN Literary Awards.)