PEN America Literary Awards PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel

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. The Award aims to preserve the novel as an art form and to support the longevity of the writer’s literary career. The winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize intended to allow significant time and resources with which to pursue a subsequent work of fiction. 

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]. For more information, please visit our FAQ page.

Submissions for the 2021 cycle are open through August 15, 2020. Submit here.

2020 Cycle

Honoring books published in 2019.

JUDGES: R.O. Kwon, Terese Marie Mailhot, David L. Ulin

2020 Finalists

Stay and Fight, Madeline ffitch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Hudson | IndieBound

99 Nights in Logar, Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking)
Hudson | IndieBound

Big Familia, Tomas Moniz (Acre Books)
Hudson | IndieBound

The Travelers, Regina Porter (Hogarth)
Hudson | Indiebound

A Prayer for Travelers, Ruchika Tomar (Riverhead Books)
Hudson | IndieBound

2020 PEN Hemingway Award For A Debut Novel Cropped

Featured Winner: Ruchika Tomar

A Prayer for Travelers, Ruchika Tomar (Riverhead Books)
Hudson | IndieBound

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.

Ruchika Tomar - A Prayer for Travelers


Stay and Fight, Madeline ffitch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Hudson | IndieBound

Madeline ffitch - Stay and Fight

The Travelers, Regina Porter (Hogarth)
Hudson | IndieBound

Regina Porter - The Travelers


Previous Winners

2019 Tommy Orange for There There

2018 Weike Wang for Chemistry

2017 Yaa Gyasi for Homegoing

2016 Ottessa Moshfegh for Eileen

2015 Arna Bontemps Hemenway for Elegy on Kinderklavier

2014 NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names

2013 Kevin Powers for The Yellow Birds

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


  • The work must be a candidate’s absolute first novel and published by a U.S. trade publisher between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
  • Publishers may submit galleys or manuscripts for consideration if the book is not yet published.
  • Candidates must be U.S. residents and/or citizens permanently residing in the United States.
  • There are no restrictions on the candidate’s age or on the style of their work as long as it is a full-length work of fiction.
  • 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.
  • Self-published books are not eligible.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions for the 2021 awards will be accepted 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected]. 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.