2016 PEN/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction


Lisa Ko for "The Leavers" (Forthcoming from Algonquin Books)

The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The $25,000 prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner also receives a publishing contract with Algonquin Books.

From the Judges' Citation

One morning Chinese-American immigrant Peilan Gao leaves for work and doesn't come back. Soon, her son Deming finds himself adopted by a Caucasian family and renamed Daniel Wilkinson, incorporated into a culture nothing like the one he's known and loved, while puzzling over why his mother might have left him. Following these narrative threads, 'The Leavers' asks whether a child is better served being raised by adoptive parents with English fluency and economic privilege, or with his family and culture of origin, despite having fewer educational and financial resources. A novel that draws links between economic migration and the adoption industry, 'The Leavers' is, as Laila Lalami says, "A rich and sensitive portrait of lives lived across borders, cultures, and languages. . . one of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year."


Nancy Agabian, "The Fear of Large and Small Nations"
Mary Beath, "Paradox Valley"
Nadine Bjursten, "By These Limbs"
Aneesha Capur, "A Cartography of Hope"
Rebecca Clarren, "Kickdown"
Jessi Lewis, "She Spoke Wire"
Thomas Miller, "Nightrunner"
Gail Vida Hamburg, "Liberty Landing"
Dawn Zera, "Earth Teach Me"

2016 Judges 

Laila Lalami is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Secret Son, and The Moor's Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Guardian, and The New York Times. She is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside.

Kathy Pories has been a senior editor at Algonquin Books for nineteen years. She acquires literary fiction and narrative nonfiction; was for many years the series editor of New Stories from the South; and has been the editor for the last five Bellwether Prize winners. Authors she has worked with include: Gabrielle Zevin, Rebecca Lee, Bill Roorbach, Lauren Grodstein, Michael Parker, Hillary Jordan, Robert Olmstead, Heidi Durrow, and others. She received her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Brando Skyhorse is the author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, which received the 2011 PEN/Hemingway award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Take This Man: A Memoir. He is also co-editing an anthology on passing which will publish in 2016. He is currently a visiting professor at Wesleyan University.


Past Winners

Donna Gershten in 2000 for Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth (HarperCollins); Gayle Brandeis, 2002,The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins); Marjorie Kowalski Cole, 2004, Correcting the Landscape (HarperCollins); Hillary Jordan, 2006, Mudbound (Algonquin Books); Heidi W. Durrow, 2008, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books); Naomi Benaron, 2010, Running the Rift (Algonquin Books); Susan Nussbaum, 2012, Good Kings Bad Kings (Algonquin Books); Ron Childress, 2014, And West is West (Algonquin Books, 2015)

Click here for additional information, including submission guidelines, for the award.

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