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 a $10,000 prize which honors a writer whose collection of individual essays, published in the current calendar year, is an expansion of their exceptional body of work focusing on the essay as an art form. This is considered a mid-to-late career achievement award. 

The award aims 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 Ursula K. Le Guin, James Wolcott, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Marilynne Robinson. 

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 Literary Award seal, please write to [email protected].

Current Cycle: 2020

Honoring books published in 2019.

Submissions: June 1, 2019 -August 15, 2019
Longlists Announced: December 2019
Shortlists Announced: January 2020
Awards Ceremony: March 2020

2019 Finalists

2019 Finalists for the PEN/Diamonstein Award

Featured Honoree: Michelle Tea, 2019 Winner

Against Memoir by Michelle Tea

Michelle Tea

  Photo by Jenn Rosenstein

Against Memoir by Michelle Tea (Feminist Press)
Hudson Booksellers | IndieBound

Judges: Garrard Conley, Paul Reyes, Aisha Sabatini Sloan

From the judges’ citation: “Tea’s anti-memoir harkens back to the days when queer was truly counterculture. On subjects as varied as marriage and Minor Threat, in a manner quick-witted and unabashedly intelligent, these essays rove, plunge, and spike. Each seems to set out with almost uninhibited bravery as she walks the terrain of memory or explores the mysteries of pop culture, all with sober precision; in other moments, the prose barrels forward in jubilant riffs, rendered with the fast, energetic, and angry strokes of punk. One senses in her work not just the art of writing but the art of having fun while doing it. Tea uses her own experience to add a sense of proximity and emotional depth that, taken together, vault her sentences toward unexpected poetry. Something ineffable lives within these pages; any subject in her hands—be it a band, a crush, or getting lost in a faraway city—feels organic and alive. Tea is one of those rare writers whose style is immediately recognizable yet inimitable, whose voice is as singularly irresistible as the punk culture that shaped her.”



Previous Winners

2019 Michelle Tea, Against Memoir (Feminist Press)

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

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

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

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

2014 James Wolcott, Critical Mass (Doubleday)

2013 Robert Hass, 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, Arguably (Twelve)
André Aciman, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere
Robert Gottlieb, Lives and Letters

2011 Mark Slouka, 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)


Submissions for the 2020 awards cycle were accepted from June 1, 2019 – August 1, 2019. Please note that book submissions were not considered unless officially submitted via the online form AND received at the PEN America New York office with the corresponding Declaration of Eligibility.

Who is Eligible
  • Eligible:

Submissions for the 2021 cycle will be open June 1, 2020 – August 15, 2020. 

  • Eligible titles must have been published by a U.S. trade publisher during the applicable calendar year.
  • 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 book must be a series of individual essays. 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 is not considered a PEN America Literary Award.

NOT Eligible:

    • Self-published books are not eligible
    • A single book-length work of nonfiction 
    • Anthologies with multiple authors are not eligible
How to Submit
      • PEN will only accept submissions from publishers or literary agents; authors may not submit their own book for this award. 
      • Please download the Declaration of Eligibility. Complete all fields and have a company executive sign in order to confirm the book’s eligibility. Upload this form along with the rest of your application here.
      • Each submission is $85*. If you would like to pay by check, please enter CHECK in the coupon code field at checkout. Checks should be made out to PEN American Center. Please also submit a verified email address on the submission form; this info will be used to later contact you regarding the shipments of your submission. Please note that submission fees are not refundable.
      • Mail one copy of the candidate’s book, galley, or bound manuscript to the address below during the open submission period. 

                PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
                PEN America
                588 Broadway, Suite 303
                New York, NY 10012

      • Once the submitted book is received and reviewed for eligibility, [email protected] requests a copy to be shipped to the judges.

      *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’ 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 check-out in order to have your submission fees waived. One fee waiver may be used for all 2019 PEN Awards; you do not need to submit a separate fee waiver for each award.