PEN America Literary Awards PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

The PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award celebrates writing that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience. The winner receives a cash award of $10,000.

The PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award was founded by scientist and author Dr. Edward O. Wilson, activist and actor Harrison Ford, and the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The award is also supported by Jim and Cathy Stone. The inaugural award was conferred in 2011. Examples of published works that exemplify the quality of writing the award is designed to acknowledge include Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring (1962), Lewis Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell (1978), and Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979).

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 are now closed and will reopen in April 2024 for books published in the 2024 calendar year.

Featured Winner

For a work that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience.

Judges: Tim Folger, David Hu, Emily Raboteau

Heartbreak, Florence Williams (W. W. Norton & Company)

From the judges’ citation: “In the wake of divorce after a 25-year marriage, veteran science journalist Florence Williams undertook to study the physiology of her pain and solutions for recovery from heartache. Her resulting book, Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, chronicles healing from emotional loss and offers important insights into the mechanics and impacts of romantic grief. The judges of this year’s PEN E.O./Wilson Literary Science Writing Award were impressed by Williams’ brave, funny, and relatable scientific inquiry into her own heartache. What a gift to learn through her story that the way to get over a broken heart is through beauty, purpose, agency, and awe—and that science tells us so.”

2023 Finalists

Vagina Obscura, Rachel E. Gross (W. W. Norton & Company)

Sounds Wild and Broken, David George Haskell (Viking)

Big Bang of Numbers, Manil Suri (W. W. Norton & Company)

Heartbreak, Florence Williams (W. W. Norton & Company)

An Immense World, Ed Yong (Random House)


  • Eligible titles must have been published between January 1, 2023 and December 31, 2023.
  • Eligible books must be written by a single, living author.
  • Authors of the work must be permanent U.S. residents or citizens.
  • 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.