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 and finalists for this award are eligible to receive PEN America’s official winner or finalist seal. If you are a publisher of a shortlisted or winning book for this award and are interested in obtaining the PEN America award seal, please write to [email protected]. For more information, please visit our FAQ page.

Submissions for the 2022 cycle will be open June 1–August 1, 2021.

Featured Winner

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

Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World, Amy Stanley (Scribner)

From the judges’ citation: “Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World is a remarkably accomplished work that transports the reader into a world at once entirely unfamiliar, yet familiar in its narrative of a woman determined, against social norms and expectation, to live her own life. In her depiction of Tsuneno, Amy Stanley both introduces us to a new female heroine and highlights the universality of human experience despite the cultural and linguistic divides between East and West. This is an inspiring book both in content and form. Beautifully written, Stranger in the Shogun’s City conjures the past through masterly weaving challenging and fragmentary sources. It is a work of great literary excellence as well as a compelling new history of life in 19th-century Japan.”

Stranger in the Shotgun City book cover

2021 Finalists

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture, Sudhir Hazareesingh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman, Ben Hubbard (Tim Duggan Books)

The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Peniel E. Joseph (Basic Books)

999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz, Heather Dune Macadam (Citadel)

Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World, Amy Stanley (Scribner)

Book covers of 2021 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography finalists


  • A candidate’s book of nonfiction must have been published by a trade publisher in the United States between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
  • 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.
  • Self-published books are not eligible.

Submission Guidelines

  • PEN America will only accept submissions from publishers or literary agents. Authors may not submit their own book for this award.
  • On the submissions page, please select the award you are submitting to.
  • Please submit verified email addresses on the submission form. Your order cannot be processed without an email address, and this information will be used to later contact you regarding your submission.
  • Upload a PDF file of the galley or final manuscript on the book submissions page. Due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, 2021 book award submissions will only be read digitally as PDF files. Each book file will be kept confidentially between the PEN America Literary Awards team and the applicable 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.
  • Please download the declaration of eligibility. Complete all fields and have the editor or publisher sign to confirm the book’s eligibility. Please upload this document along with the rest of your application on the submissions page.
  • Each submission is $85*. Please note that due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, we are asking that all submissions payments be made via credit card. Submission fees are not refundable.
  • 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.

*Submission fees may be waived for publishers whose annual net sales are less than $2 million. In order to have your dues waived, please have a company official write a letter on company letterhead stating that your press’s annual net sales are less than $2 million. Please send this letter as an attachment (.doc or .pdf) to [email protected]. Once received, you will be provided with a coupon code to use at checkout in order to have your submission fees waived. One fee waiver may be used for all 2021 PEN America Awards; you do not need to submit a separate fee waiver for each award.

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