NEW YORK—PEN America today announced the finalists for the 2019 Literary Awards, showcasing the best in literature and literary translation by writers from the United States and around the world. Debut works and small presses dominate the shortlist, with over 50 percent of works published by small presses and debut works being considered for awards across genres and categories including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama and performance, and more.

The list’s selections energize the short story form; explore the science of sand and cerebellum in riveting prose; analyze the impact of the Ferguson protests on athletes’ activism; chart experiences of trauma, perseverance, and transformation; illuminate the lives of iconic artists and thinkers including Lorraine Hansberry, Jane Jacobs, and Cy Twombly; bring us novels and poetry collections from Argentina, Iran, and Sweden, and more.

Two debut works are up for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, the award with the largest prize at $75,000: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s short story collection Friday Black (Mariner Books) and José Olivarez’s poetry collection Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books) (one of two poetry collections shortlisted for the Award). They are joined by the Educated by Tara Westover (Random House), The Carrying: Poems by Ada Limón (Milkweed Editions), and The Overstory by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton & Company). The shortlisted books address some of the key topics of our time, from racism and immigration to rural survivalism and border towns, and our changing, and often tense relationship with the environment.

“Our esteemed judges have chosen works by some of the best and brightest authors of our time,” said PEN America Literary Awards Program Director Nadxieli Nieto. “By catapulting debut authors and works published by small presses into the literary limelight, our Literary Awards program is expanding our bookshelves and invigorating literary culture. Our current moment has brought to the fore the essential role of writers as storytellers, and the range of works shortlisted is a testament to the enduring power and infinite possibilities of the written word.”

The PEN/Bingham Prize, focused for the first time on debut short story collections, confers a $25,000 prize, and is the only award in the U.S. exclusively for debut collections. The finalists are Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s White Dancing Elephants (Dzanc Books), Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man: Stories (Graywolf Press), and Akil Kumarasamy’s Half Gods (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The PEN/Hemingway Award, refocused this year on debut novels, comes with a $25,000 prize and each finalist receives a residency at Ucross. The finalists are Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater (Grove Press), Meghan Kenny’s The Driest Season: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company), Ling Ma’s Severance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Tommy Orange’s There There: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf), and Nico Walker’s Cherry: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf).

This year, PEN America has forged a relationship with Hudson Booksellers, the travelers’ local bookstore, with over 450 stores in 83 airports worldwide. As part of this partnership, selections from the shortlist will be available for purchase at stores and online at a 25 percent discount.

Announcements for the following career achievement awards, presented at the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on February 26, are forthcoming: the PEN/Nabokov Award for International Literature, PEN/Osterweil Award for Poetry, PEN/Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, PEN/Pels Theater Award, PEN/Magid Award for Excellence in Editing, the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award, and the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

PEN America’s flagship award for novel-length debut fiction, the PEN/Hemingway Award, will be celebrated in April in a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA.

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored the most outstanding voices in literature across such diverse fields as translation, fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama. With the help of its partners and supporters, PEN America will confer 22 distinct awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes in 2019, awarding more than $370,000 to writers and translators.

Winners of the book awards will be revealed at the February 26 Literary Awards Ceremony at the NYU Skirball Center. Tickets are available here. Tickets to the Literary Awards Ceremony, where winners will be announced live, are available here.

The full 2019 PEN America Literary Award shortlists, and more information about the Literary Awards program, are available here.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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