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Announcing the 2022 PEN America Literary Grant Winners

“PEN America Literary Grant Winners” in centered text; maroon rays sticking out from each corner

PEN America is delighted to announce the 2022 literary grant winners. Juried by panels of esteemed, award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics who are committed to recognizing their contemporaries, these winning works-in-progress show the potential for lasting literary impact. The following grant winners will be supported as they continue their important work, and we look forward to seeing these thought-provoking and challenging examples of literary excellence brought to the world.

Publishers, agents, and editors who wish to learn more about these projects are invited to contact the PEN America Literary Awards team at [email protected].

PEN/Jean Stein Grants for Literary Oral History ($15,000)

The PEN/Jean Stein Grants for Literary Oral History recognize literary works of nonfiction that use oral history to illuminate an event, individual, place, or movement. The grants are made possible by a substantial contribution from American author and editor Jean Stein, whose groundbreaking work helped popularize literary oral history. Beginning in the 2021 cycle, PEN America confers two grants with cash prizes of $15,000 each.

Judges: Crystal Mun-hye Baik, Gracen Brilmyer, Joe Richman


Simar Preet Kaur, A Hyphenway in the Sky
From the judges’ citation: “A work of remarkable creativity and dedication, Simar Preet Kaur’s A Hyphenway in the Sky uncovers a precarious world that few experience or know about: the journeys of truck drivers traveling along India’s Manali-Leh Highway, a 475-kilometer winding road that borders China and Pakistan. An expansive project that encompasses eight years of place-based oral histories conducted with over 300 truck drivers across 91 trips, A Hyphenway in the Sky is a ‘history of truckers and a history of place by truckers.’ Alongside her beautifully wrought writing and captivating photographs, Kaur crafts an ‘on-the-move’ oral history–methodology necessitated by the context of her research, including extreme weather and climate, limited access to resources, and the navigation of gender and class relations. A Hyphenway in the Sky exemplifies all that is possible from an imaginative practice that challenges conventional notions of oral history, while also centering the unique lives and rich stories of India’s truck drivers and a mountainous landscape.”


Deborah Jackson Taffa, Whiskey Tender
From the judges’ citation: “At a historic moment shaped by a global pandemic, extractive economies, and climate catastrophe, Deborah Jackson Taffa’s Whiskey Tender offers a powerful reckoning that centers the experiences of Native peoples in Turtle Island (North America). A creative memoir that interweaves her experiences as a Native woman with stories told by her family, community, and land across Navajo, Yuma, and Laguna Pueblo nations, Taffa’s poetic work examines how settler histories of genocide against Native peoples are intimately entwined with gendered and sexual violence perpetrated against Native women. Whiskey Tender—an original work told through a strong voice full of clarity and pain as well as humor—expresses the vast scale of violence that Native peoples, particularly women, navigate on a daily basis, ranging from the body to community, land, environment, and nation. More than ever, Whiskey Tender is an urgently necessary work that reveals Taffa’s considerable skill as a gifted writer, story gatherer, and storyteller and where, as Taffa shares, ‘remembrance is political.’”

PEN/Phyllis Naylor Grant for Children’s and Young Adult Novelists ($5,000)

The PEN/Phyllis Naylor Grant for Children’s and Young Adult Novelists is offered annually to an author of children’s or young adult fiction for a novel-in-progress. The grant is made possible by a substantial contribution from PEN America Member and prolific author, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The award was developed to help writers whose work is of high literary caliber and assist in the novel’s completion. The author of the winning manuscript is selected blindly by judges and will receive a $5,000 grant.

Judges: Jack Gantos, Cheryl Willis Hudson, Lois Lowry 

Joy Jones, Walking the Boomerang
From the judges’ citation: “Joy Jones’s fast-paced middle-grade novel, Walking the Boomerang, is well titled; it portrays sixth grader Kareem who must duck and swerve, as Jones writes, ‘at his new middle school, a private school for African American boys in Washington, D.C., called Karibu (which means “welcome”). Welcome is not quite how he feels, especially when riding the big yellow school bus where a bully named Zilton holds sway.’ Kareem maneuvers through his new school with deft humor as his awkward attempts to fit in come full circle and return to knock him for a loop. Witty dialogue and observations about the social world in which he lives make him a likable protagonist with understandable failings and an endearing determination to make things right. On the surface the book is popular in genre and very digestible, but it digs deeper into exploring issues of personal responsibility—from the humorous foibles to their less-than-humorous consequences. The honesty of the main character and the genuine sense of all the members of his loving family pull this book together. It is a convincing, swift, and honest look into a young man’s questionable choices—it is not a book where the main character’s world falls apart, but a book where the main character holds his world together through integrity and humor.”

PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants ($3,700)

Now in their 19th year, the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants promote the publication and reception of translated world literature into English. Established by a gift from Priscilla and Michael Henry Heim in response to the dismayingly low number of literary translations appearing in English, the fund has supported more than 200 projects.

For the 2022 cycle, the judges reviewed applications from a wide array of languages of origin, genres, and time periods. Selected from this vast field of applicants are 10 projects, including Thai, Arabic, Chinese, Romanian, Kazakh, Swahili, and more, and each translator will receive a grant of $3,700 to support the translation’s completion.

Judges: Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Nicholas Glastonbury, Thomas Kitson, Tess Lewis, Aditi Machado, Minna Zallman Proctor, Kaitlin Rees, Jordan A. Yamaji Smith


Bernard Capinpin’s translation from the Filipino of A Brief Investigation to a Long Melancholia by Edel Garcellano
From the judges’ citation: “Z-666 is a writer unraveling the circumstances of his grandfather’s alleged suicide using a pair of broken glasses, a ‘biofile’ from the secret police, and Vortex I, his own invention, capable of creating a holographic display from written text. His ‘obsessive desire to understand’ leads his thoughts through histories of Spanish conquest, U.S. and Japanese imperialism, and the current uprising against the Marcos regime to consider his complicity in globalized networks of capital and prestige. Finally, he cedes the narrative to a character from his own novel, Xinnia, a revolutionary feminist journalist who questions all his assumptions about political and artistic representation. Edel Garcellano, a Marxist critic and poet, was committed to writing and teaching in Filipino rather than Spanish or English. Bernard Capinpin translates this deeply literate experimental science fiction novel with poetic verve, sensitive to the alchemical ‘code’ that binds material sounds—marks on the page—to a supreme fiction and its subjects to a supreme ideology.”


Rajnesh Chakrapani and Anca Roncea’s translation from the Romanian of Detachment by Mina Decu
From the judges’ citation: “With her 2018 debut collection Detachment, Romanian poet Mina Decu offers us moments of fleeting and unfulfilled intimacy—snippets of daily life, impossible pasts, and brutal futures—in a breathless, innovative style. To read this poetry is to be inexorably, even violently, drawn into the twists and turns of another’s psyche. In their sparse yet sparkling co-translations, Rajnesh Chakrapani and Anca Roncea masterfully capture Decu’s decentralized poetic voice, with its ambiguous grammar and unpunctuated verses, and bring the work of this important poet into English for the first time.”


Danielle Legros Georges’s translation from the French of Balafres by Marie-Célie Agnant
From the judges’ citation: “Haitian Canadian writer Marie-Célie Agnant’s Balafres is a scarred-yet-triumphant, radically musical work of Black Francophone literature. Danielle Legros Georges translates this revolutionary text with a poet’s will to (re-)invent its varied moods and modes—incantatory, epigrammatic, eidetic, vituperative, mournful—in a resonant and enraged English born, as was the French, in a stopped time when ‘all the clocks read NOON // Noon reeking of venom / and mortal arsenic (…) NOON the hour of Maria and Rosie / who bury the dead child / the dead child in arms / with no flowers no wreaths / Maria with no past no age / Maria and Rosie without names grown / without knowing why they exist / in the alleys without names / in the cities without names.’”


Ryan Greene’s translation from the Spanish of The Green Sun by Yaxkin Melchy Ramos
From the judges’ citation: “Ryan Greene’s translation of Mexican and Peruvian Quechua poet Yaxkin Melchy Ramos’s collection of poems The Green Sun is truly radiant. Printed in green ink, the verdant ‘sci-tech’ poems bear a radical hybridity, blurring the lines between poetry and science, with handwritten visual poems and drawings scattered through the collection’s 300 pages. In the poet/translator’s own words, The Green Sun moves toward ‘building a scientific imaginary rooted in the heart, and a sensitive and intercultural understanding of scientific theories and methods in order to overcome the poetic disconnection of the modern world.’”


May Huang’s translation from the Chinese of Young Gods by Chiou Charng-Ting
From the judges’ citation: “May Huang’s translation of Taiwanese author 邱常婷 Chiou Charng-Ting’s recent collection of short stories Young Gods is suffused with the seductive pull of heartbreak and pleasure. In five interconnected short stories, Chiou Charng-Ting invites pieces of Taiwanese aboriginal traditions and national history to mingle with a semi-autobiographical account of her life and the BDSM/kink communities of Taipei. Through experiments in various forms, the celebrated original touches on themes of adolescence, womanhood, the natural world, and the divine. With the translator selected for ALTA’s 2020 Emerging Translator Mentorship, the duo is a particularly exciting one to watch.”


Mirgul Kali’s translation from the Kazakh of To Hell with Poets by Baqytgul Sarmekova
From the judges’ citation: “In her short story collection, To Hell with Poets, Baqytgul Sarmekova offers wry, darkly humorous portraits of ordinary Kazakh people held in the snare of patriarchy, cultural tradition, and postsocialist upheaval. Sarmekova’s caustic descriptions of the fraught tensions undergirding her characters’ lives are shot through with biting wit and irony. In her skillful translation, Mirgul Kali deftly recreates the atmosphere of these everyday tensions as they quietly seethe just below the surface.”


Adam Mahler’s translation from the Castrapo of Closed House/A Dau(gh)ter in His Stead by Luz Pichel
From the judges’ citation: “The first-ever English translation of the border language of Castrapo, a language spoken in Galicia, Closed House/A Dau(gh)ter in His Stead is an ambitious exploration of the living interstices of language. Through their unconventional orthography, the poems tease the limits between the written and spoken word, inviting new reflection on the nature of language itself. Adam Mahler’s daring translation of Luz Pichel captures the playful, liminal spirit of the work and its nonbinary poetics, reflecting the still vitality of memory and language in rural Iberian life.”


Mui Poopoksakul’s translation from the Thai of The Understory by Saneh Sangsuk
From the judges’ citation: “The celebrated Thai writer Saneh Sangsuk’s novel The Understory charts the transition of many Thai communities in the 20th century from jungle to agrarian to capitalist life. Mui Poopoksakul’s lithe translation captures the charged atmosphere of enchantment and menace that hovers over tales told around the fire. She does ample justice to this novel that blends Eastern and Western narrative traditions and is as shape-shifting as the supernatural tiger that haunts the village of Praeknmdang.”


Jay Rubin’s translation from the Swahili of Rosa Mistika by Euphrase Kezilahabi
From the judges’ citation: “Jay Rubin’s supple translation of this foundational work of literature in Swahili by the Tanzanian writer Euphrase Kezilahabi brings to vivid life the inhabitants of the village of Namagondo. Traces of its recent colonial past are many in this island village in Lake Victoria, yet the local culture and its customs are rife with exploitation and misogyny. Kezilahabi’s portrayal of the weak and defenseless is unflinching, yet he unfailingly accords them dignity, agency, even humor. Published in 1971 and temporarily banned for its direct depictions of the abuse of schoolgirls by their teachers and women by their fathers, husbands, and brothers, Rosa Mistika is now standard reading in schools across Tanzania and Kenya.”


Yasmine Seale’s translation from the Arabic of If You See Them Fall to Earth by Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi
From the judges’ citation: “The Ottoman-era scholar, writer, and jurist Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi’s early 18th-century work ‘Perfuming Humanity by Interpreting Dreams’ is arguably the most important text in the rich history of Islamic dream interpretation, the culmination of a classical Arabic genre located at the intersection of poetry, prophecy, theology, psychology, and philosophy. With If You See Them Fall to Earth, translator Yasmine Seale skillfully introduces English-language readers to this rich tradition with her edited selections from al-Nabulsi’s massive work. Through her poetic translations, Seale breathes new life into this oneiric text.”

PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature ($5,000)

Administered under and judged alongside the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants, the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature honors a translator for a book-length translation of narrative prose and seeks to promote the publication of Italian literature into English. The winner will receive a $5,000 grant to aid in the project’s completion.

Tim Cummins’s translation from the Italian of We Will Take Our Revenge by Paolo Nori
From the judges’ citation: “Tim Cummins’s muscular translation of Paolo Nori’s radical, unhinged, and terrifically readable novel, We Will Take Our Revenge, distinguishes itself in its total ownership of voice. Tracing the unusual story of civil justice and parenting, Cummins’s translation finds a perfect point on the bridge between the music of the Italian sentence and the urgency of English. It is both foreign and deeply resonant.”

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