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, published by a U.S. trade publisher in the applicable calendar year, is an expansion on their corpus of work and is not their first collection of essays. In partnership with Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, PEN America will confer an increased cash purse of $15,000 for the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay.

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 in the applicable calendar year, either exploring one specific theme or a range of subjects. Essays may deal with a range of subjects or may explore one specific theme, but the book, taken as a whole, should be a collection of individual essays, 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. The award is not intended for the discovery of new writers. 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. Self-published works are ineligible.

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 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: Jelani Cobb, Daniel Menaker, Judith Thurman


I Used to Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz, Eve Babitz (New York Review Books Classics)
Hudson | IndieBound

Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays, Leslie Jamison (Little, Brown and Company)
Hudson | IndieBound

I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution, Emily Nussbaum (Random House)
Hudson | IndieBound

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, Jia Tolentino (Random House)
Hudson | IndieBound

2020 PEN Diamonstein Spielvogel Award For The Art Of The Essay Cropped

Featured Winner: Deborah Fleming

Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape, Deborah Fleming (Kent State University Press)
Hudson | IndieBound

From the judges’ citation: “In a field of writers eloquent about the pathologies of selfhood and modern life, Deborah Fleming’s Resurrection of the Wild stood apart. It is a collection of essays about the nature and natural history of her native Ohio: on its indigenous inhabitants and their fate; on the settlers who displaced them, or who, like John Chapman—’Johnny Appleseed’—tried to protect their way of life; on the early ecologists, like Aldo Leopold and Louis Bromfield, who raised an unheeded alarm against the ‘desecration’ of the land by industry and development. Towards the end of the book, Fleming writes: ‘Like careless children who waste their inheritance, we do not deserve the planet we have been given.’

“Fleming’s Ohio is a template for that planet, and her essays explore the zoology, botany, and anthropology of her home ground with astonishing specificity and Thoreauvian passion. Hummingbirds peck on her window if she is late serving up the nectar. The depradations of fracking and strip mining are described like the torture of body. We meet the Amish in all their admirable, clannish, and cagey variations. The seasons come alive and then slumber. In places, this is an elegy: ‘The earth has made us what we are, sustains us, and will take us back again when we have seen our share of passing seasons.’ Elsewhere, it is joyful and hopeful: ‘We need only look around to see that nature is trying to show us the gate that will lead us back inside.” Fleming’s work holds a key to that gate.’”

Deborah Fleming, Resurrection of the Wild


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)


Who is Eligible:

  • 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 author must have previously published a collection of essays. First collections of essays are not eligible for the award.
  • The book must be a series of individual essays 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.

NOT Eligible:

  • Self-published books.
  • A single book-length work of nonfiction.
  • Anthologies with multiple authors.

Submission Guidelines

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 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 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.