Announcing the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards Finalists

“PEN America Literary Awards Finalists” in centered text; golden rays sticking out from each corner

PEN America is honored to announce the finalists for the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards. Each year, our Literary Awards are juried by panels of esteemed, award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics from diverse backgrounds and around the globe. Collectively, our dedicated judges read over 1,850 books this cycle in their commitment to recognizing literary excellence in their contemporaries. You can learn more about the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards judges here.

This spring, the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards will confer over $380,000 to writers and translators across all stages of their careers. Spanning fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, translation, and more, these Finalists’ books are dynamic, imaginative, and thought-provoking examples of literary excellence published in the 2020 calendar year. From promising debut writers to those who have had a continuous, lasting impact on the literary canon, these books showcase distinguished contributions to American culture and thought.

Winners will be celebrated at the virtual Literary Awards Ceremony on April 8, 2021. Stay tuned for more.

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award ($75,000)

To a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.

Judges: Vievee Francis, Fred Moten, Tommy Orange

Borderland Apocrypha, Anthony Cody (Omnidawn)
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The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel, Akwaeke Emezi (Riverhead Books)
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Be Holding: A Poem, Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press)
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The Freezer Door, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents)
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Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award finalists

PEN Open Book Award ($10,000)

To an exceptional book-length work of any literary genre by an author of color.

Judges: Toi Derricotte, Brandon Hobson, Katie Kitamura, Jamil Jan Kochai, Akil Kumarasamy, Solmaz Sharif

A Treatise on Stars, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions Publishing)
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Un-American, Hafizah Geter (Wesleyan University Press)
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Wild Peach, S*an D. Henry-Smith (Futurepoem Books)
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Inheritors, Asako Serizawa (Doubleday)
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How to Pronounce Knife: Stories, Souvankham Thammavongsa (Little, Brown and Company)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN Open Book Award finalists

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection ($25,000)

To an author whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future work.

Judges: Ben Marcus, Elizabeth McCracken, Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Alligator & Other Stories, Dima Alzayat (Two Dollar Radio)
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Adults and Other Children: Stories, Miriam Cohen (Ig Publishing)
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You Will Never Be Forgotten: Stories, Mary South (FSG Originals)
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A House Is a Body: Stories, Shruti Swamy (Algonquin Books)
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Further News of Defeat: Stories, Michael X. Wang (Autumn House Press)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection finalists

PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel ($10,000)

To a debut novel of exceptional literary merit by an American author.

Judges: Ramona Ausubel, Jack Livings, Stuart Nadler

These Ghosts Are Family: A Novel, Maisy Card (Simon & Schuster)
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Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
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Shuggie Bain: A Novel, Douglas Stuart (Grove Press)
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Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)
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How Much of These Hills Is Gold: A Novel, C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/Hemingway Award For Debut Novel finalists

PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection ($5,000)

To a poet whose distinguished collection of poetry represents a notable and accomplished literary presence. 

Judges: Sherwin Bitsui, Cynthia Cruz, Terrance Hayes, Claudia Keelan, Bao Phi

Conjure, Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press)
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Obit, Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press)
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The Age of Phillis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Wesleyan University Press)
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Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, John Murillo (Four Way Books)
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Blessed as We Were: Late Selected and New Poems, 2000–2018, Gerald Stern (W. W. Norton & Company)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection finalists

PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000)

For a book-length translation of poetry from any language into English.

Judges: Daniel Borzutsky, Marissa Davis, Meg Matich

Lean Against This Late Hour, Garous Abdolmalekian (Penguin Books)
Translated from the Persian by Ahmad Nadalizadeh and Idra Novey
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Raised by Wolves: Poems and Conversations, Amang (Phoneme Media)
Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury
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Sense Violence, Helena Boberg (Black Ocean)
Translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson
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Katabasis, Lucía Estrada (Eulalia Books)
Translated from the Spanish by Olivia Lott
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A New Orthography, Serhiy Zhadan (Lost Horse Press)
Translated from the Ukrainian by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin
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Book covers of 2021 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation finalists

PEN Translation Prize ($3,000)

For a book-length translation of prose from any language into English.

Judges: Jacqui Cornetta, Somrita Urni Ganguly, Ana L. Méndez-Oliver, Amanda Sarasien, Niloufar Talebi, Sevinç Türkkan

Our Riches, Kaouther Adimi (New Directions Publishing)
Translated from the French by Chris Andrews
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That Hair: A Novel, Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida (Tin House)
Translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker
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Ornamental, Juan Cárdenas (Coffee House Press)
Translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis
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Girls Lost, Jessica Schiefauer (Deep Vellum)
Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
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A Country for Dying: A Novel, Abdellah Taïa (Seven Stories Press)
Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan
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Book covers of 2021 PEN Translation Prize finalists

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($15,000)

For a seasoned writer whose collection of essays is an expansion on their corpus of work and preserves the distinguished art form of the essay.

Judges: Sandra Cisneros, John D’Agata, Adam Gopnik

Had I Known: Collected Essays, Barbara Ehrenreich (Twelve)
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Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, Vivian Gornick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
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Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays, Robert Michael Pyle (Counterpoint Press)
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Terroir: Love, Out of Place, Natasha Sajé (Trinity University Press)
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Maybe the People Would Be the Times, Luc Sante (Verse Chorus Press)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay finalists

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award ($10,000)

For a work that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience.

Judges: Nassir Ghaemi, Christine Kenneally, Erin Macdonald, Banu Subramaniam

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, Jennifer Ackerman (Penguin Press)
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Fathoms: The World in the Whale, Rebecca Giggs (Simon & Schuster)
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The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers, Emily Levesque (Sourcebooks)
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The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move, Sonia Shah (Bloomsbury Publishing)
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Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl, Jonathan C. Slaght (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award finalists

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000)

For a biography of exceptional literary, narrative, and artistic merit, based on scrupulous research.

Judges: Nicholas Buccola, Karl Jacoby, Nell Painter, Anna Whitelock

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture, Sudhir Hazareesingh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
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MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman, Ben Hubbard (Tim Duggan Books)
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The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Peniel E. Joseph (Basic Books)
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999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz, Heather Dune Macadam (Citadel)
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Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World, Amy Stanley (Scribner)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography finalists

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction ($10,000)

For a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective that illuminates important contemporary issues.

Judges: Roxane Gay, Thomas Page McBee, Dunya Mikhail, Eric Schlosser, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Laura Wides-Muñoz

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom (Grove Atlantic)
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Deported Americans: Life after Deportation to Mexico, Beth C. Caldwell (Duke University Press)
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Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals, Saidiya Hartman (W. W. Norton & Company)
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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, Robert Kolker (Doubleday)
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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)
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Book covers of 2021 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction finalists