PEN/Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History


The PEN/Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History recognizes a literary work of nonfiction that uses oral history to illuminate an event, individual, place, or movement. Past winners include Sharony Green, Loida Maritza Pérez, Nyssa Chow, and Aleksandar Hemon. 

We’re pleased to announce that beginning with the 2021 grant conferral, we will confer two PEN/Jean Stein Grants for Literary Oral History with increased cash prizes of $15,000 each. All of the submission materials and guidelines will remain the same.

The grants are made possible by a substantial contribution from American author and editor Jean Stein, whose groundbreaking work helped popularize literary oral history. Her books include American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy (1970), Edie: An American Biography (1982), and West of Eden: An American Place (2016).

Applications for the 2021 cycle are open April 1 – August 1, 2020. Apply here



Grant Recipients

PEN America has awarded grants to four winning projects to date. 

2020 Grant Recipient

Sharony Green, for The Baa Haas.

Judges: Kate Bernheimer, Heid E. Erdrich, and Alessandro Portelli

This manuscript is not under contract. To request a manuscript excerpt, please contact

From the judges’ citation: “Dedicated with academic and compassionate care to an underrepresented black population of Bahamian descent in Florida, The Baa Haas beautifully reflects the values of literary oral history. Sharony Green is simply a wonderful storyteller. In the tradition of Zora Neale Hurston’s Every Tongue Got to ConfessThe Baa Haas gives the community access to public discourse and gives readers access to an unforgettable history. Here are true stories of the history and reality of a diminishing population. Here is an intersectional story at a time of geographic and economic trauma. As is often the case, the ‘margin’ turns out to be central to our understanding of the world in which we live.”

Previous Recipients

2019 Loida Maritza Pérez, Beyond the Pale.
Judges: Mary Marshall Clark, and Paul Ortiz, Pam Sugiman

This manuscript is not under contract. To request a manuscript excerpt, please contact

From the judges’ citation: “Loida Maritza Pérez’s beautifully told story of Dominican life, Beyond the Pale, is rooted in her own discovery of her father’s telling of a version of the truth, which she believes until the end of his life was a lie. The natural drama of the father/daughter relationship reveals the dynamic ways in which memory has been manipulated across the generations in the troubled physical and spiritual borderlands between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Perez’s revelation/her journey in recognizing this mistake takes us into the harsh history of colonization and resistance. The unraveling of tall tales demonstrate how important oral traditions, folktales and Santaria itself is ‘as a form of resistance’ in told form. This reminds oral history audiences that the roots of our field is in orality (vs. written texts and highly professionalized transcripts). Additionally, the book is very well written, in a genre that is true to the oral traditions Pérez comes from.”


2018 Nyssa Chow, Still.Life.

2017 Aleksandar Hemon, How Did You Get Here?: Tales of Displacement 




Applications for the 2021 cycle will be open April 1 – August 1, 2020. Submit here. 

Who is Eligible
  • The submitted project must be the work of a single individual, written in English.
  • The project must be an unpublished work-in-progress.
  • The project must be a work of literary nonfiction.
  • Oral history must be a significant component of the project and its research.

NOT eligible: Scholarly or academic writing

How to Submit

The online submission form requires the following, submitted as one pdf file:

  • A 1-2 page, single-spaced description of the work, its importance, and why the author chose to undertake this project. This space can additionally be used to discuss any permissions, rights, contracts, publication timelines, or other aspects of your project.
  • A 1-2 page, single-spaced statement explaining why and how oral history was used in the project. 
  • A 300-500 word statement explaining how a grant would aid in the completion of the project.
  • A CV for the author of the project, which should include information on any previous publications.
  • An outline that includes the work completed thus far and the work remaining. The outline should include the names of all participants.
  • Transcripts of the project interviews (6-10 pages).
  • A writing sample from the project (20-40 pages, double-spaced).

Applications for the 2021 cycle will be open April 1 – August 1, 2020. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Should I submit a section of the raw, unedited transcript in addition to the writing sample comprised of edited transcripts?

A: Explain the situation in your application, and then include a section of the unedited transcript for the transcript section and the edited transcripts as the writing sample.

Q: Do the writing sample and transcription need to cover the same material?

A: The transcript and writing sample should best represent the project’s overall goals, subject matter, and process, but do not necessarily need to be the same materials and/or scene.