PEN America Literary Awards PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

The PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay is an annual award which honors a seasoned writer whose collection of essays is an expansion on their corpus of work. Beginning with the 2021 award, the award will be conferred with an increased cash purse of $15,000.

PEN America Member, former PEN America Trustee, and author Barbaralee Diamonstein and Carl Spielvogel, former New York Times columnist, founded the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay to preserve the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature. In years past, the award has been conferred to distinguished writers including Michelle Tea, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Wolcott, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Marilynne Robinson, Martha Nussbaum, Cynthia Ozick, and Bernard Knox, among others.

The award is for a book of individual essays, either exploring one specific theme or a range of subjects, not a book-length work of nonfiction. Individual essays may have been previously published elsewhere; however, if the submitted book includes work previously published in a collection by the author, the submitted book should include significant new work. Candidates must be permanent U.S. residents or American citizens and living at the time of the book’s publication. First time and debut authors are ineligible, as the award is not intended for the discovery of new writers. 

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 for the 2024 cycle will be accepted June 1–August 1, 2023.

Featured Winner

Judges: Jason DeParle, Hua Hsu, Marilynne Robinson

Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American SouthMargaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions)


From the judges’ citation: “Margaret Renkl’s weekly essays for the New York Times offer a model for how to move through our world with insight and sensitivity. Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartbreak from the American South takes in the full scope of her surroundings, and the reader walks away wanting to see as she sees, hear what she hears, smell what she smells. It’s a stellar collection that spans nature writing and cultural criticism, the present and the past, full of explorations of religion, belief, and Southern politics that flex a cordial, probing curiosity. She picks good heroes—John Lewis, John Prine, ‘the lowly Tennessee coneflower”—and she makes sharp judgments without sounding judgmental. At a moment of extreme division, Renkl writes with a generosity of spirit, as a neighbor rather than ideologue.”

2021 Finalists

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House)

Homo Irrealis: Essays, André Aciman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time, Teju Cole (University of Chicago Press)

These Precious Days: Essays, Ann Patchett (Harper)

Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American SouthMargaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions)


Previous Winners

2021 Barbara Ehrenreich for Had I Known: Collected Essays (Twelve)

2020 Deborah Fleming for Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape (Kent State University Press)

2019 Michelle Tea for Against Memoir (Feminist Press)

2018 Ursula K. Le Guin for No Time to Spare (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

2017 Angela Morales for The Girls in My Town (University of New Mexico Press)

2016 Ta-Nehisi Coates for Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau/ Random House)

2015 Ian Buruma for Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War (New York Review Books)

2014 James Wolcott for Critical Mass (Doubleday)

2013 Robert Hass for What Light Can Do (Ecco)
Jill Lepore, The Story of America (Princeton University Press)
Daniel Mendelsohn, Waiting for the Barbarians (New York Review Books)

2012 Christopher Hitchens for Arguably (Twelve)
André Aciman, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere
Robert Gottlieb, Lives and Letters

2011 Mark Slouka for Nick of Time (Graywolf Press)
Elif Batuman, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Alex Ross, Listen to This (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

[The award went on hiatus from 2005-2010]

2004 Stewart Justman, Seeds of Mortality (Floyd Skloot)

2003 William H. Gass, Test of Time (Knopf)

2002 David Bromwich, Skeptical Music (University of Chicago)

2001 David Quammen, The Boilerplate Rhino (Scribner)

2000 Annie Dillard, For the Time Being (Knopf)

1999 Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam (Houghton Mifflin)

1998 Adam Hochschild, Finding the Trapdoor (Univ. of Syracuse)

1997 Cynthia Ozick, Fame and Folly (Knopf)

1996 Thomas Nagel, Other Minds (Oxford)

1995 John Brinckerhoff Jackson, A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time (Yale)

1994 Stanley Fish, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech…And It’s A Good Thing Too (Oxford)

1993 Frederick Crews, The Critics Bear It Away: American Fiction and the Academy (Random House)

1992 David B. Morris, The Culture of Pain (University of California)

1991 Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge (Oxford)

1990 Bernard Knox, Essays Ancient and Modern (Johns Hopkins)


Who is Eligible:

  • Eligible titles must have been published by a U.S. trade publisher between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022. Self-published books are ineligible.
  • Candidates must be permanent U.S. residents or American citizens.
  • There are no restrictions on the subject matter of the essays. Essays may deal either with a range of subjects or may explore one specific theme.
  • The author must have previously published at least one collection of essays. First collections of essays are not eligible for the award.
  • The book must be published by a single author. Anthologies with multiple authors are ineligible.
  • Individual essays may have been previously published in magazines, journals, or anthologies.
  • 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

  • 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.