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2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction

The PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction 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.

Jenny zhang, Sour Heart (Lenny)

Winner of the 2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize For Debut Fiction

From the judges’ citation: “With humor and stunning honesty, Sour Heart tests and topples such categories as “immigrant fiction” or “coming-of-age story”—making its own vital, original, and wholly irresistible footprint on American letters. The book is rangy in tone and texture, a high stylist moving from the scatological to the sublime and back again. Zhang is uncommonly, beautifully frank about that which embitters and that which enlivens. Sour Heart enlarges the reader’s understanding of the world with a voice so run through with lively contradiction it is as tender as it is rough, as mature as it is youthful, both urgent and cool.” 

JENNY ZHANG is a poet and writer living in New York City.


Reviews & Praise

“Jenny Zhang’s astounding short-story collection, Sour Heart, combines ingenious and tightly controlled technical artistry with an unfettered emotional directness that frequently moves, within single sentences, from overwhelming beauty to abject pain.”–The New Yorker

“In Zhang’s stories, young female narrators—sour and sweet, wild and wilful—bear witness to the journeys of their families, who have left China to establish new lives in the U.S.”–The Guardian



“Back when my parents and I lived in Bushwick in a building sandwiched between a drug house and another drug house…”


Read more from SOUR HEART


2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Finalists

Sonora, Hannah Lillith Assadi (Soho Press)
IndieBound | Amazon

Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, Venita Blackburn (University of Nebraska Press)
IndieBound | Amazon

History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund (Atlantic Monthly Press)
IndieBound | Amazon

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories, Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
IndieBound | Amazon


2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Judges

CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS, author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn, winner of the Story Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, a Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, and more. A Guggenheim Fellow and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, Claire is also the co-director, with Derek Palacio, of the Mojave School, a free creative writing workshop for teenagers in rural Nevada.
JUSTIN TORRES’ first novel We the Animals, a national best seller, has been translated into fifteen languages and is currently being adapted into a feature film. He is the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and his short fiction and non-fiction works appear in The New Yorker and The Guardian, among other publications. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a fellow at numerous institutions. 
MIA ALVAR’s story collection In the Country won the 2016 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, and the University of Rochester’s Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. She has been a writer in residence at Yaddo, Djerassi, and elsewhere; her work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, One Story, among other publications. She received her MFA from Columbia University and lives in Los Angeles.
RION AMILCAR SCOTT‘s short story collection, Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky, 2016) was awarded the 2017 PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Presently, he teaches English at Bowie State University.



Submissions for the 2019 awards cycle will open on June 1, 2018. Please note that PEN only accepted submissions from publishers or literary agents. Authors were not to submit their own book for this award.


    • Eligible titles must be published between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018.
    • Authors of the work must be permanent U.S. residents or American citizens.
    • Authors are not to submit work for any additional PEN America awards, with the exception of the Open Book Award. (PEN/Faulkner is not considered a PEN America award.)