PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

The PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography is awarded for excellence in the art of biography. This prize of $5,000 goes to the author of a distinguished work published in the United States during the previous calendar year. The winning title is considered by the judges to be a work of exceptional literary, narrative, and artistic merit, based on scrupulous research.

All winners, finalists, and longlisters for this award are eligible to receive PEN America’s official emblems. If you are a publisher and interested in obtaining PEN America’s award emblem, please write to [email protected]. For more information, please visit our FAQ page.

Submissions open from June 15 – August 1, 2024 for books published in the 2024 calendar year.

2023 Featured Winner

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

Judges: Manu Bhagavan, Silvana Paternostro

Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm, Dan Charnas (MCD)

From the judges’ citation: “J Dilla was a hip hop producer who achieved renown for his shockingly original sound, which defied expectations in such dramatic ways as literally to transform our understanding of rhythm, of music itself. He got us to listen differently. In telling this story, Dan Charnas has accomplished something remarkable, channeling Dilla here to surprise and delight us in words, upending our preconceived notions of biography and calling on us to read differently. Dilla Time is well-researched, nuanced, and paints a vivid portrait of its subject, all hallmarks of top-quality non-fiction. But it takes a revolutionary turn when it blends together the life of Dilla, the story of a city, and the development of hip hop. 

In its staggered layout, Dilla Time produces a polyrhythmic beat of its own, where the words don’t simply sing, they stretch, warp, stomp right through the page. Charnas gets his readers to see, think, and hear at the same time. In this, Charnas has created perhaps the truest tribute to Dilla and his legacy: a work of funky artistic achievement.”

2023 Finalists

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality, Tomiko Brown-Nagin (Pantheon)

Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm, Dan Charnas (MCD)

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, Beverly Gage (Viking)

Guru to the World: The Life and Legacy of Vivekananda, Ruth Harris (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century, Jennifer Homans (Random House)


  • A candidate’s biography must have been published by a trade publisher in the United States between January 1 and December 31 of the applicable calendar year.
  • Eligible books must be written by a single, living author.
  • Candidates need not be U.S. residents or citizens.
  • Books must be works by an author about another person. Memoir and autobiography are ineligible, unless the work significantly focuses on the life of another person.
  • If you submit a book for this award, you may not submit it for any additional PEN America Literary Award, with the exception of the PEN Open Book Award. Please note that the PEN/Faulkner Award is not considered a PEN America Literary Award.

Submission Guidelines

  • All submitted books must be published by a trade or academic publisher between January 1 and December 31 in the applicable year. Self-published books are ineligible for the PEN America Literary Awards.
  • Books with more than one original author are ineligible for the PEN America Literary Awards.
  • PEN America will only accept submissions from publishers or literary agents. Authors may not submit their own books.
  • On the submission form, please select the award you are submitting to.
  • Submissions of a book to multiple awards is allowed only in the case of the PEN Open Book Award. Please complete a separate submission for this award if applicable.
  • Please submit verified email addresses on the submission form. Your order cannot be processed without an email address. Additional contacts are required so that we may be in contact directly if an author or translator is selected as a longlister, finalist, and/or winner.
  • Upload a PDF file of the galley or final manuscript on the book submissions form. Book award submissions will be read as PDF files. Please upload the file saved as BOOKTITLE_AUTHORNAME. For the judges’ convenience, please upload a book file WITHOUT watermarks. Each book file will be kept confidentially between the Literary Awards team and the awards judges. Please note that if a book is longlisted, PEN America may request a physical copy be sent to the judging panel.
  • Upload a high-resolution book jacket photo. This may be used later if the book is longlisted, a finalist, or a winner.
  • Each submission is $85. Submission fees are not refundable. Please note that all payments must be made via the submission form.
  • Submission fees may be waived for publishers whose annual net sales are less than $2 million. You may request an exemption here—this form asks for a letter on company letterhead stating that the press’s annual net sales are less than $2 million. Do not submit your title before requesting your fee exemption, as the Literary Awards Team will provide you with an alternative submission method. 
  • Once the submitted book is received and reviewed for eligibility by PEN America, it will be passed along to the judges. Please add [email protected] to your address book, as it will be the main point of contact from PEN America.