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by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000 and funded entirely by her, it is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles.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.

Click to view past winners of the PEN/Bellwether Prize »

For more information, please visit our FAQ page.



Submissions for the 2019 awards cycle will be accepted from June 1, 2018 through October 1, 2018. 


  • An unpublished novel manuscript by a writer, who has not sold more than 10,000 copies of a published book. Previous publication of short stories and essays encouraged.
  • The submission must be an original, previously unpublished novel, written by one person, in English, at least 80,000 words in length.
  • The applicant’s submission may not be under consideration by any publisher during the judging period, and if the applicant has a literary agent, the applicant is encouraged to inform them that the work should not be submitted elsewhere during the review period for this prize. Applicants will be notified immediately if their manuscript is no longer under consideration  at which time they should feel free to submit the work elsewhere for consideration.
  • Eligible authors must be U.S. citizens.
  • If you submit a book for this award, you may not submit it for any additional PEN America awards. Please note that the PEN/Faulkner is not considered a PEN America award.

NOT eligible:

  • Individuals who were previously finalists for the PEN/Bellwether Prize cannot submit the same work again for any future offerings of this award.


submission guidelines

The online application form requires the following:

  • Your typed, double-spaced (11 or 12 point font), and paginated manuscript (at least 80,000 words in length) with title appearing on every page (your name should not appear anywhere on the pages to ensure anonymity for the judging process)
  • A one-page synopsis of the work’s plot which also explains how it addresses a social issue (please do not include your name on this page). How to define socially engaged fiction
  • Résumé or curriculum vitae (five pages maximum)
  • A $25 submission fee. Submittable will provide instructions for paying through their website or through PayPal. PEN will not be accepting checks, money orders, or cash as a means of payment. Early application is strongly advised.
  • Each applicant will receive information regarding the status of their application in February 2019 or earlier.

Complete the online Submittable form.



  • Can the four publications be published online?
    • Yes, as long as they aren’t published on your personal blog, online magazines, blogs, etc.
  • Can the previous publications/book be non-fiction?
    • Yes, as long as the unpublished novel manuscript you are submitting for the Bellwether Prize is fiction.