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. 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

Submissions for this award are currently on hiatus. Please check back for updates after July 10, 2020. 

Current Cycle: 2020

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

Eligibility and Submission Guidelines

Who is Eligible


Submissions for the award are on hiatus. Please stay tuned for updates. 


  • 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 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.