The PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel honors a debut novel of exceptional merit by an American author who has not previously published a full-length book of fiction. One winner will be selected by a panel of three esteemed writers. The winner will receive a $25,000 cash prize intended to allow significant time and resources with which to pursue a subsequent work of fiction. All competition Finalists receive Residency Fellowships at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers.
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 PEN America’s award seal, please write to [email protected].
The winner and runners-up for this award will be celebrated at a special ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. Stay tuned for more updates.
Current Cycle: 2020
Honoring books published in 2019.
Submissions for the 2021 cycle open June 1, 2020.
JUDGES: R.O. Kwon, Terese Marie Mailhot, David L. Ulin
Featured Winner: Ruchika Tomar
From the judges’ citation: A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar is a remarkable piece of writing, astute in style and structure and also in the story that it tells. Unfolding in a small town in Nevada, it traces the friendship of two women, a relationship that grows complicated until it shatters, and one of the friends disappears. Tomar is an exquisite writer, and A Prayer for Travelers is marked by a deft and deeply rendered sense of place. Even more, the novel pushes back against our preconceptions, shifting fluidly in time to evoke a sense of the floating nature of existence, especially for characters such as these, who find themselves, in nearly every way that matters, having to reckon with what it means to live on the periphery.
2012 Teju Cole for Open City
2011 Brando Skyhorse for The Madonnas of Echo Park
2010 Brigid Pasulka for A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True
2009 Michael Dahlie for A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living
2008 Joshua Ferris for Then We Came to the End
2007 Ben Fountain for Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
2006 Yiyun Li for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
2005 Chris Abani for Graceland
2004 Jennifer Haigh for Mrs. Kimble
2003 George Brownstein for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W
2002 Justin Cronin for Mary and O’Neil
2001 Akhil Sharma for An Obedient Father
2000 Jhumpa Lahiri for Interpreter of Maladies
1999 Rosina Lipini for Homestead
1998 Charlotte Bacon for A Private State
1997 Ha Jin for Ocean of Words
1996 Chang-rae Lee for Native Speaker
1995 Susan Power for The Grass Dancer
1994 Dagobert Gilb for The Magic of Blood
1993 Edward P. Jones for Lost in the City
1992 Louis Begley for Wartime Lies
1991 Bernard Cooper for Maps to Anywhere
1990 Mark Richard for The Ice at the Bottom of the World
1989 Jane Hamilton for The Book of Ruth
1988 Lawrence Thornton for Imagining Argentina
1987 Mary Ward Brown for Tongues of Flame
1986 Alan V. Hewat for Lady’s Time
1985 Josephine Humphreys for Dreams of Sleep
1984 Joan Chase for During the Reign of the Queen of Persia
1983 Bobbie Ann Mason for Shiloh and Other Stories
1982 Marilynne Robinson for Housekeeping
1981 Joan Silber for Household Words
1980 Alan Saperstein for Mom Kills Kids and Self
1979 Reuben Bercovitch for Hasen
1978 Darcy O’Brien for A Way of Life, Like Any Other
1977 Renata Adler for Speedboat
1976 Loyd Little for Parthian Shot
Eligibility and Submission Guidelines
Submissions for the 2021 cycle will be open June 1, 2020 — August 15, 2020.
- PLEASE NOTE: This prize honors debut novels.
- The candidate’s first (and only the first) novel must have been published by a U.S. trade publisher in the relevant calendar year. Publishers may submit galleys or bound manuscripts for consideration if the book is not yet published.
- Authors of the work must be U.S. residents or U.S. citizens.
- There are no restrictions on the candidate’s age or on the style of his or her work as long as it is fiction.
- Self-published books are not eligible.
- PEN will only accept submissions from publishers or literary agents. One need not be a Member of PEN to submit. Authors may not submit their own book for this award.
- Please download the Declaration of Eligibility here. Complete all fields and have a company executive sign in order to confirm the book’s eligibility. If eligible, please upload this document 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; your order cannot be processed without an email address, as 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 below address during the open submission period.
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 2020 PEN Awards; you do not need to submit a separate fee waiver for each award.