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 2021 cycle will be open June 15–August 15, 2020. Submit here.

2020 Cycle

Honoring books published in 2019.

JUDGES: David W. Blight, Yunte Huang, Miriam Pawel, Rebecca Walker, Shawn Wen


Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas, Stephen Budiansky (W. W. Norton & Company)
Hudson | IndieBound

Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, Adina Hoffman (Yale University Press)
Hudson | IndieBound

Sontag: Her Life and Work, Benjamin Moser (Ecco)
Hudson | IndieBound

Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution, Helen Zia (Ballantine Books)
Hudson | IndieBound 

2020 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award Finalists

Featured Winner: Jacquelyn Dowd Hall

Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (W. W. Norton & Company)
Hudson | IndieBound

From the judges’ citation: “Jacquelyn Dowd Hall has written a true achievement indicative of amazing research. Hall’s interviews with Katherine Lumpkin go back to the 1970s, and the book is carefully layered, weaving all three sisters’ lives into one narrative. Hall develops all three of them with empathy and sympathy. The sister Katherine is the progressive radical and most admirable, but both Grace and Elizabeth come to life in all manner of ways. All of them speak in their own words, their own writings, and above all, Hall writes with clarity and verve. This is a story of worlds partly vanished, but not entirely, and is one of the deepest dives into the makings and workings of the Lost Cause tradition one will ever find. The work is about the particular world that shaped these three women in Georgia and the larger South of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is an American story of family, women’s spheres and how they were broken, of women’s professionalism, and of women authors both representing traditions they could not overcome and some they also smashed. In its entirety, the book is written with grace and beauty. This is history from deep in the archives and from a trained imagination.”

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Sisters and Rebels


  • 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.


Submissions for the 2021 awards will be accepted from June 15, 2020 through August 15, 2020.


  • 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.