PEN America Literary Awards Open Book Award



The PEN Open Book Award, formerly the Beyond Margins Awards, invites submissions of book-length writings by authors of color, published in the United States during the current calendar year. Works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, poetry, and other works of literary character are strongly preferred. The award confers a $5,000 prize upon an author of color. U.S. residency or citizenship is not required.

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].

Current Cycle: 2020

Honoring books published in 2019.

Submissions: June 1 – August 15, 2019
Longlists Announced: December 2019
Shortlists Announced: January 2020
Awards Ceremony: March 2020 


2019 Finalists

2019 finalists for the PEN Open Book Award

Featured Honoree: Nafissa Thompson-Spires, 2019 Winner

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Nafissa Thompson Spires

Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Atria)
Hudson Booksellers | IndieBound

Judges: Hanif Abdurraqib, Cristina Arreola, Richie Narvaez, Kevin Nguyen, Elissa Washuta, Sunil Yapa

From the judges’ citation: “Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s Heads of the Colored People is an original and thrilling debut. The short story collection deftly explores race as both foundational and ancillary in the lives of bickering school moms and melancholic teenagers, weaving together stories of Black upper middle class lives in contemporary America. A book this smart, funny, sly, charming, and devastating is a gift. Both of the moment and utterly timeless, these stories and the ‘heads’ they inhabit do the necessary and thrilling work of the best literature: they expand the understanding of what it means to be a human and alive in this moment.”



Previous Winners

(This award was formerly called the PEN Beyond Margins Award.)

2019 Nafissa Thompson-Spires, The Heads of the Colored People (Atria)

2018 Alexis Okeowo, A Moonless, Starless Sky (Hachette)

2017 Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House)

2016 Rick Barot, Chord (Sarabande Books)

2015 Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

2014 Nina McConigley, Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapter Books)
Ruth Ellen Kocher, domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press)

2013 Gina Apostol, Gun Dealers’ Daughter (W.W. Norton)
Kevin Young, The Grey Album (Graywolf Press)

2012 Siddhartha Deb, The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India (Faber & Faber)

2011 Manu Joseph, Serious Man (W. W. Norton & Company)

2010 Sherwin Bitsui, Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press)
Robin D.G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press)
Canyon Sam, Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History (University of Washington Press)

2009 Uwem Akpan, Say You’re One of Them (Back Bay Books)
Juan Felipe Herrera, Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press)
Lily Hoang, Changing (Fairy Tale Review Press)

2008 Chris Abani, Song for Night (Akashic Books)
Amiri Baraka, Tales of the Out and the Gone (Akashic Books)
Frances Hwang, Transparency (Back Bay Books)
Naeem Murr, The Perfect Man (Random House Trade Paperbacks)
Joseph M. Marshall III, The Day the World Ended at Little Big Horn (Penguin Books)

2007 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (Anchor)
Ernest Hardy, Blood Beats, Vol. 1 (Redbone Press)
Harryette Mullen, Recyclopedia (Graywolf Press)
Alberto Ríos, Theater of Night (Copper Canyon Press)

2006 Richard Blanco, Directions to the Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press)
Andrew Lam, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora (Heyday)
Ed-Bok Lee, Real Karaoke People (New Rivers Press)
Caryl Phillips, Dancing in the Dark (Vintage)
Jennifer Tseng, The Man With My Face (The Asian American Writers’ Workshop)

2005 Faith Adiele, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun (W. W. Norton & Company)
Raquel Cepeda, ed., And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years (Faber & Faber)
Lan Samantha Chang, Inheritance (W. W. Norton & Company)
Lolita Hernandez, Autopsy of an Engine, and Other Stories from the Cadillac Plant (Coffee House Press)
Ishle Yi Park, The Temperature of This Water (Kaya/Muae)

2004 Laila Halaby, West of the Jordan: A Novel (Beacon Press)
Suki Kim, The Interpreter (Picador)
Nasdijj, The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping (Ballantine Books)
Willie Perdomo, Smoking Lovely (Rattapallax Press)
April Reynolds, Knee-Deep in Wonder: A Novel (Metropolitan Books)

2002 Meena Alexander, Illiterate Heart (Triquarterly Books)
Luis Francia, Eye of the Fish (Kaya Press)
Joy Harjo, A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Victor LaValle, Slapboxing with Jesus: Stories (Vintage Books)
Nelly Rosario, Song of the Water Saints (Pantheon Books)




Submissions for the 2020 awards cycle were accepted from June 1, 2019 – August 15, 2019. Please note that book submissions were not considered unless officially submitted via the online form AND received at the PEN America New York office with the corresponding Declaration of Eligibility.

Who is Eligible


Submissions for the 2021 cycle will be open June 1, 2020 –August 15, 2020.

  • A candidate’s work must have been published in the United States by a trade publisher between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019.
  • The PEN Open Book Award is open to authors of color who have not received wide media coverage.
  • Works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, poetry, and other works of literary character are strongly preferred.
  • U.S. residency or citizenship is not required.

NOT eligible:

  • Self-published books
  • Nonfiction that’s not of a literary character
  • Authors of color who have already received wide media coverage.
How to Submit
  • PEN will only accept submissions from publishers or literary agents.
  • Please download the Declaration of Eligibility. Complete all fields and have a company executive sign in order to confirm the book’s eligibility. Upload this document along with the rest of your application online here.
  • Each submission is $85*. If you would like to pay by check, please click on CHECK at checkout. Checks should be made out to PEN America. Please note that submission fees are nonrefundable.
  • Mail one copy of the candidate’s book, galley, or bound manuscript to the below address during the open submission period.

PEN Open Book Award
PEN America
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.