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.

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 biography must have been published by a trade publisher in the United States between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021.
  • 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.
  • 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 submission form, 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 form. Following pandemic-related protocols, 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.
  • 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 submission form.
  • 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.
  • Submission fees may be waived for publishers whose annual net sales are less than $2 million. In order to have fees waived, have a company official write a letter on company letterhead stating that the press’s annual net sales are less than $2 million. Please send this letter as a PDF attachment to [email protected]. Do not submit before emailing this document to the Literary Awards team, as they 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.

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