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2018 PEN Open Book Award

The PEN Open Book Award, formerly the Beyond Margins Awards, invites submissions of book-length writings by authors of color, published in the United States during the current calendar year. Works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, poetry, and other works of literary character are strongly preferred. The award confers a $5,000 prize upon an author of color. U.S. residency or citizenship is not required.

Alexis Okeowo, A Moonless, STarless Sky (Hachette)

Winner of the 2018 PEN Open Book Award

From the judges’ citation: “In A Moonless, Starless Sky, journalist Alexis Okeowo humanizes the lives behind the headlines, transforming often one-dimensional news stories from the African continent into narratives of endurance and survival. A young Ugandan couple escapes the Lord’s Army; a Mauritanian activist battles the ancient practice of slavery; locals fight back against Boko Haram in Nigeria; in Somalia, young women pursue their dreams of playing basketball despite religious edicts. These are narratives of everyday people confronting unimaginable challenges where one’s very existence becomes an act of resistance. Okeowo’s reporting demonstrates the multiplicity of human resilience and regeneration in impossible times. In a time when our own leaders conflate poverty with personal character, we can think of no more important book. The individuals showcased in A Moonless, Starless Sky are among the best and brightest anywhere in the world.” 

ALEXIS OKEOWO joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2015. Her work has also been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing (2017) and The Best American Travel Writing (2017). She has been awarded fellowships and grants from New America, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and the International Reporting Project. She has previously contributed to The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the Financial Times.


Reviews & Praise

“The narrative or context given for suffering is what determines survival. The feeling of selfhood of those who have endured trauma is shaped by the gaze of others as much as their experience. Vital to their own sense of self, to their resilience, is an ability to frame their own narrative, something notably done by all the women and men in “A Moonless, Starless Sky.” Okeowo has taken their stories, crafted them in all their courage and complexity and placed them at the center of the story of what it is to be human.”–The New York Times Book Review



“What are the ethics of resisting? When extreme circumstances are forced upon a person, what is she allowed to do to survive? Can she commit apostasy as a religious person, or kill a relative? The answers are complex, possibly unknowable. The idea of survival becomes hazy: It can mean more than just staying alive; it can mean leading the life she feels entitled to have.”




2018 Finalists

My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir, Jessica B. Harris (Scribner)
IndieBound | Amazon

Augustown, Kei Miller (Pantheon)
IndieBound | Amazon

Lessons on Expulsion: Poems, Erika L. Sánchez (Graywolf Press)
IndieBound | Amazon

Ordinary Beast: Poems, Nicole Sealey (Ecco)
IndieBound | Amazon


2018 Judges

EDUARDO C. CORRAL is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut collection of poetry, Slow Lightning, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 2011. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Discovery/The Nation Award, the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize from Poetry Magazine, a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
KAITLYN GREENIDGE is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Lenny Letter, The Believer, American Short Fiction, The Virginia Quarterly, Guernica, and other places. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Whiting Foundation and other prizes. She is a contributing writer at Lenny Letter and currently lives in Brooklyn.
QUAN BARRY is the author of four books of poetry and the novel She Weeps Each Time You’re Born. She has received two NEA Fellowships in both fiction and poetry, and she currently directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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.


    • A candidate’s work must have been published in the United States by a trade publisher between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018.
    • Open to authors of color who have not received wide media coverage.
    • Works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, poetry, and other works of literary character were strongly preferred.
    • U.S. residency or citizenship is not required.