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2018 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing

The $5,000 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing honors a nonfiction book about sports. Eligible titles should be of a biographical, investigative, historical, or analytical nature and of the strongest literary character.

Jonathan Eig, Ali: A Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Winner of the 2018 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing

From the judges’ citation:There has rarely, if ever, been an athlete as famous the world round as Muhammad Ali, and there has rarely, if ever, been an athlete whose life has been so thoroughly documented, in countless photographs and articles, and of course in books as well. And yet Jonathan Eig’s Ali: A Life, stands above them all. It is a beautifully-written, transcendent biography that renders vivid in every stage of a remarkable life: Ali the brash teenager, Ali the proud Muslim, Ali the conscientious objector—and then: Ali the warrior, the man of peace, and finally the icon. More than simply describing a life, Eig has created a context that allows us to understand that life more fully than we ever have before. This is biography at its best.

JONATHAN EIG is the author of five books, three of them New York Times best sellers. He was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is a former staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, where he remains a contributing writer. Eig has also written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and Slate.com, among others.


Reviews & Praise

“This richly researched, sympathetic yet unsparing portrait of a controversial figure for whom the personal and the political dramatically fused could not come at a more appropriate time in our beleaguered American history.”The New York Times Book Review

“(Eig’s biography) is proof that, even in the most examined lives, there are corners where it is revealing to shine a light.”The Guardian



“The crowd was multicultural before anyone used the term, an explosion of pride, a funk fashion show, a drug-addled parade of ego and power. Everyone was there, and those who weren’t lied and said they were. Among those verifiably in attendance and breathing the same stale Madison Square Garden air were Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, the Apollo 14 astronauts, Sammy Davis Jr., Colonel Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, Hugh Hefner, Barbi Benton (who was Hefner’s date, and wearing a see-through blouse under a monkey-fur coat), Hubert Humphrey, Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Miles Davis, Dustin Hoffman, Diana Ross (in black velvet hot pants), Ethel Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Mayor John Lindsay, Burt Bacharach, Sargent Shriver, William Saroyan, and Marcello Mastroianni. Bing Crosby settled for a seat at the sold-out Radio City Music Hall, where he would watch via closed circuit.”


Read more from Ali: A Life


2018 ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing Finalists

The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport, Rafi Kohan (W. W. Norton) 

Indiebound | Amazon

Sting Like a Bee: Muhammad Ali vs. the United States of America, 1966–1971, Leigh Montville (Doubleday)

Indiebound | Amazon

City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles, Jerald Podair (Princeton University Press) 

Indiebound | Amazon

Bones: Brothers, Horses, Cartels, and the Borderland Dream, Joe Tone (Penguin Random House) 

Indiebound | Amazon

Ali: A Life, Jonathan Eig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 

Indiebound | Amazon


2018 ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing Judges

CHLOÉ COOPER JONES is a writer, journalist, and an Associate Professor of Philosophy. She is the tennis correspondent for GQ Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
JOE NOCERA, a columnist with Bloomberg View, has chronicled the world of business at magazines like Fortune, GQ, Esquire and Texas Monthly for more than three decades. A 2007 Pulitzer finalist, he has written books including A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class, and, All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.
SALLY JENKINS is a columnist and feature writer for the Washington Post, and the author of twelve books, including The Real All Americans, a cultural history of the Carlisle Indian School’s role in fashioning modern football. Jenkins is a four-time winner of the Associated Press sports columnist of the year award, and an inductee into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. But most proudly of all, she is the daughter of PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dan Jenkins.


Submission Guidelines

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 have been published by a U.S. trade publisher between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018.
    • Candidates must be U.S. residents. American citizenship is not required.
    • Titles must be of biographical, investigative, historical, or analytical nature.



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