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

2023 Featured Winner

For a seasoned writer whose collection of essays is an expansion on their corpus of work and preserves the distinguished art form of the essay.

Judges: Jill Lepore, John McWhorter, Simon Winchester
A Left-Handed Woman, Judith Thurman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

From the judges’ citation: “Anyone concerned that the art of the essay might be falling into desuetude need only read Judith Thurman, winner of this year’s PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. With her formidable intelligence, her unbounded curiosity, her care and sensitivity with the most lapidary of prose, her serene facility with pieces that range in length from extended captions to near-encyclopedic entries, Thurman has retrieved and revived the form and set it afire once more, leaving all who read her astonished, astounded, and delighted.”

cover of judith thurman's a left-handed woman, a pencil sketch of a left hand

2023 Finalists

​​Translating Myself and Others, Jhumpa Lahiri (Princeton University Press)

Still No Word From You, Peter Orner (Catapult)

Happy-Go-Lucky, David Sedaris (Little, Brown and Company)

A Left-Handed Woman, Judith Thurman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Green Hour: A Natural History of Home, Alison Townsend (The University of Wisconsin Press)


Previous Winners

2022 Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American South, Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions)

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 and December 31 of the applicable calendar year 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

  • 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.