Founded in 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards honor the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama. With the help of our partners, PEN America confers over 20 distinct awards, fellowships, and grants each year, awarding over $370,000 to writers and translators annually. The PEN America Literary Awards program celebrates literary excellence, encourages global discourse, champions important voices, and brings new books to life through our publication awards. You can learn more about the mission and history of the Awards Program below.

 

CELEBRATING LITERARY EXCELLENCE


The PEN America Literary Awards have honored Chris Abani, Diana Abu-Jaber, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Renata Adler, Daniel Alarcón, Edward Albee, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sandra Cisneros, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Teju Cole, Sergio De La Pava, Mark Doty, Louise Erdrich, Louise Gluck, Kimiko Hahn, Joy Harjo, Juan Felipe Herrera, Ha Jin, Edward P. Jones, Saeed Jones, Mary Karr, Barbara Kingsolver, Maxine Hong Kingston, Tony Kushner, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ursula K. Le Guin, Chang-rae Lee, Yiyun Li, Suzan Lori-Parks, Cormac McCarthy, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Arthur Miller, Rick Moody, Lynn Nottage, Helen Oyeyemi, Claudia Rankine, Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth, Akhil Sharma, Wallace Shawn, Charles Simic, Layli Long Soldier, Monique Truong, Anne Waldman, Edmund White, C.K. Williams, Franz Wright, and many more literary luminaries. Search the full list of honorees here » 

 

HONOREE SPOTLIGHT

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ENCOURAGING GLOBAL DISCOURSE

PEN America’s first prize was the PEN Translation Award, which is still conferred today. PEN America’s international literature and translation prizes and grants confer over $80,000 annually in support of international literature and the translation of literature from over 35 languages, including Armenian, Basque, and Farsi.

 

CHAMPIONING IMPORTANT VOICES

From exciting new voices to underrecognized masters of their craft, PEN America honors challenging, thought-provoking, genre-defying writers. In the last 10 years, PEN America has honored over 165 female writers and 110 writers of color. In 2018, 54% of the translators receiving grants were female translators.


BRINGING BOOKS TO LIFE

The PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, founded by Barbara Kingsolver, brings one important book to life every two years. Winning manuscripts are published by Algonquin. The PEN America Best Debut Short Stories anthology, published by Catapult, celebrates the debut short stories of PEN/Dau winners.

CELEBRATING WRITERS: FROM DEBUT TO LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

History

PEN America’s first award, the PEN Translation Prize, was founded in 1963 by a group of intrepid PEN America Members in the PEN Book of the Month Club. The book club focused on international literature, and a prize honoring exemplary works in translation was a natural next step. The PEN Translation Prize is the first of its kind in the United States, and is PEN America’s longest running award. Over the years, the Translation Prize was joined by several smaller language-specific awards, and the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation followed in 1996. Though many of the smaller awards have been discontinued over the years, the PEN Translation Prize and PEN Award for Poetry in Translation are still conferred today. Translation and the importance of communication across linguistic, cultural, and political barriers are guiding principles of the awards program.

In 1976, Mary Hemingway founded the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction. Writers who have won the PEN/Hemingway include Renata Adler (1977), Jhumpa Lahiri (2000), and Marilynne Robinson (1982). It now focuses on debut novels exclusively and is celebrated annually at the JFK Library and Museum in Boston. Both winner and finalists receive a residency at UCross in Wyoming.

In the 1990s the Awards Program expanded to honor the art of the essay (PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay), poetry (PEN/Voelcker Award and PEN/Osterweil Award), and playwriting (PEN/Pels Theater Awards). In 2002, the Open Book Committee, a group of engaged PEN America Members dedicated to increasing access and inclusivity in literature, founded the Open Book Award, which honors an exceptional book of any genre by a writer of color. The PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, which honors exceptional debut fiction writers of any age, was founded in 2002. Winners include Jonathan Safran Foer, Danielle Evans, Mia Alvar, and Sergio De La Pava. It now focuses exclusively on debut short story collections and is the only one of its kind in the United States.

Over the next two decades the Awards Program grew to include prizes in general nonfiction (PEN/Galbraith Award for Nonfiction), science writing (PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award), sports writing (PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing), biography (PEN/Bograd Weld), fiction (PEN/Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction), and international fiction (PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature).

In 2012, PEN America partnered with Barbara Kingsolver to confer the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, founded by Barbara Kingsolver in 2009. The prize awards an unpublished manuscript of socially engaged fiction with $25,000 and a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, the 2017 winner, was named a finalist for the 2017 National Book Awards. And in 2017, the first edition of PEN America’s Debut Short Stories was published in collaboration with independent publisher Catapult. The anthology showcases the winners of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize, as well as introductions by the literary magazine editors who originally published them.

In 2017, PEN America conferred the inaugural PEN/Jean Stein Award for the best book of the year, founded by the late editor and writer. The PEN/Jean Stein Award is PEN America’s largest, with a cash prize of $75,000, and honors exciting, original literature in any genre. The inaugural winner was Hisham Matar’s nonfiction book The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between, and Layli Long Soldier’s book of poetry WHEREAS won in 2018.

In 2018, PEN America joined forces PEN Center USA based in Los Angeles. The PEN Center USA Awards were founded in 1982, recognized the best writing in the western United States, and are archived here. PEN America continues to present the LitFest Gala in Los Angeles each fall, bringing together organization supporters to affirm their commitment to the defense of free expression and recognizing literary excellence with a full slate of honorary awards.

Today, our juried awards highlight literary excellence in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, science writing, sports writing, essays, biography, children’s literature, and drama, honoring both emerging writers and masters. Book award winners are announced live at the annual PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony. They are joined by career award winners in a ceremony featuring music, readings, and performances at the NYU Skirball Center in New York City.

From the Archives

Dangerous Work: An Evening with Toni Morrison, winner of the 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Watch here »

1981 Translation Awards (Audio). Featuring Susan Sontag, Theodore Solotaroff, Charles Simic, Bernard Malamud, Donald Barthelme, Anselm Hollo, Jonathan Galassi, Norman MacAfee, Robin Fulton, Edmund Keeley, Lawrence Venuti, and William Weaver. Listen here »

Norman Mailer Presents the 1979 PEN Hemingway Award (Audio) to Reuben Bercovitch for his novel Hasen, and discusses Hemingway’s “sense of wonder, and fear, and great excitement, and awe.” Listen here »

OUR SPONSORS

With few exceptions, PEN America’s awards are supported by individual PEN America Members deeply committed to literature and free expression. 

 

About the Awards Process

AWARDS COMMITTEE AND JUDGES

AWARDS COMMITTEE: Committee members help select the 80+ judges the program calls on every year, and serve in an advisory capacity. Current members are David Ulin (chair), Victoria Chang, Lily Hoang, Brigid Hughes, Steph Opitz, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Ruben Quesada, Hannah Tinti, and Sasha Weiss. Learn more here »

JUDGES: Our judges are brilliant, award-winning writers, editors, and critics. They are avid readers, passionate about their craft and their community. Judges have included Claudia Rankine, Eduardo C. Corral, Ocean Vuong, and Margo Jefferson. Meet the 2019 Awards judges here »

BOOK AWARDS

Each year we ask publishers to send us their very best books in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Our offices receive over 1,300 books each year, which our judges diligently read.

JUDGES: The PEN America Literary Awards call on over 80 writers, editors, critics, and Members each year to judge the literary awards. It is their diligent reading and conversation that make our literary awards so vibrant and representative of our large community.

SELECTION PROCESS: All eligible books and nomination are considered, and our panels come to their decision after months of reading, email conversation, and conference calls.

 

NOMINATION AWARDS

Nominations are provided by Members or by anonymous nomination panels. Judges are encouraged to nominate their own honorees.

JUDGES: The PEN America Literary Awards call on over 80 writers, editors, critics, and Members each year to judge the literary awards. It is their diligent reading and conversation that make our literary awards so vibrant and representative of our large community.

SELECTION PROCESS: All eligible books and nominations are considered, and our panels come to their decision after months of reading, email conversation, and conference calls.

 

WINNER MEDALLIONS

Publishers of winning titles that wish to use a winner seal on printed books or a digital file of the seal for future print runs should contact [email protected].