PEN America Literary Awards PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature

Founded in 2016 in collaboration with the Nabokov Foundation, the award is conferred annually to a living author whose body of work—either written in or translated into English—represents the highest level of achievement in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama, and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship. Previous winners include Edna O’Brien and Adonis.

M. NourbeSe Philip, 2020 Honoree

JUDGES: Lila Azam Zanganeh, George Elliott Clarke, Hari Kunzru, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Alexis Okeowo

From the judges’ citation: “Hailing from Tobago, and now African-Canadian, M. NourbeSe Philip is the perfect candidate for the 2020 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. From her first book publication in 1980, she continuously fuses fierce ethics with experimental aesthetics, empathetic politics with avant-garde poetics, drafting sinuous argument, heart-stopping narratives, and paradoxical characters—all to showcase our moral crises. Uncompromising in thought, her works—essays, plays, poetry, fiction—never compromise, never try to circumscribe quandaries. Schooled in that dismal science—economics—and in that divisive meditation—law, Philip wields her scholarly acumen to reveal, forensically and viscerally, the anguish of the downpressed and the self-imprisonment of oppressors. To do so, she pushes language into Nabokovian mazes of miscommunication—all broken tongues and busted jaws, or typography gone haywire, or etymology become a branch of entomology, so that the classics are vivisected and syntax dissected. The dark parts of history make her sorrowful, but her responsive rage inspires purifying analyses that smash smokescreens into smithereens, to beckon on light.

M. NourbeSe Philip

Selection Process

The winner is selected by a panel of judges. There are no outside nominations.