PEN Literary Award Winners include Lauren Redniss, Rick Barot, and Ta-Nehisi Coates

NEW YORK— PEN America named Mia Alvar winner of the 2016 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction this evening at a ceremony in New York for her short story collection In the Country.

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, In the Country comprises nine stories giving voice to the Filipino diaspora as its characters reflect on their cultural identities to confront the traumas of the past and the uncertainties of the future. “It is rare to find a debut of such depth and breadth, work singing with the grace of a thousand doomed lifetimes compressed into stories both luminous and empathic, populated by memorable characters facing such keenly felt challenges,” judges Helon Habila, Elizabeth McCracken, Edie Meidav, and Jess Row wrote in their citation for the award.

“This book was such a private labor of love for so long, and I feel incredibly lucky that it found a team of people that cared about it almost as much as I did, if not more,” said Alvar as she accepted the prize, presented by Chair of PEN’s Awards Committee and winner of the 2004 PEN/Bingham Prize Monique Truong. “I want to acknowledge a special debt to the Filipino-American and Filipino literary community. These are poets and fiction writers and everything in between who have been working for generations out of sense of urgency and love, and not always visible rewards. I thank them for the stories they’ve told and inspired me with, and also for welcoming me so generously into their conversation—or party, more accurately.”

PEN announced the winners of three other awards live at the April 11 ceremony. Lauren Redniss won the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future (Random House). The PEN Open Book Award went to Rick Barot for Chord (Sarabande Books), the author’s third collection of poetry. Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose monograph on race and society Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau/Random House) has met massive critical acclaim since it was released in July, took the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. His father, Paul Coates, accepted the award on his behalf.

PEN America also announced tonight the winner of the PEN/FUSION Emerging Writers Prize, established in 2015 to recognize an unpublished nonfiction manuscript by an author under age 35. Jean Guerrero, whose memoir “Crux” depicts her quest to understand her father’s struggles with mental health on his journey from Mexico to the U.S., accepted the $10,000 prize.

Distinguished Pantheon Books editor Erroll McDonald accepted the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, announced earlier this spring, on behalf of his mentor and longtime friend Toni Morrison, who was unable to attend due to a long-planned distinguished lectureship at Harvard.

“The books, authors, subjects, and subjectivities that this year’s judges found most worthy of PEN Literary Awards are ones that give voice to the voiceless, put the marginalized in the mainstream, and tell stories untold,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “This roster of winners is a reminder that literature and art don’t flourish in a box. Literature and art live and breathe the debates, dilemmas, doubts, and divides that dog their writers and their readers. One of the most potent answers to offensive speech has always been more speech; here tonight we celebrate the power of literature as counter-narrative, an elixir that helps us discover our better selves.”

For more than 50 years, the PEN Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across such diverse fields as fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, and drama. With the help of its partners and supporters, PEN will confer 19 distinct awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes in 2016, awarding nearly $200,000 to writers and translators. A complete list of 2016 winners is available at https://pen.org/blog/announcing-2016-pen-literary-award-winners

PEN revealed at the ceremony the addition of two new prizes to their annual awards program to be presented for the first time in 2017: the PEN Translation of Italian Literature Grant and the PEN/Robert J. Dau Debut Short Fiction Prize. The short fiction prize will recognize twelve emerging writers annually for debut short stories to be published as an annual anthology by the literary press Catapult as The PEN America Best Debut Short Stories.

Photos of the 2016 Literary Awards Ceremony will be available by 12-noon on Tuesday, April 12 at bit.ly/2016-pen-ceremony

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Founded in 1922, PEN America is an association of 4,400 U.S writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. www.pen.org

CONTACT
Paul Morris, Director of Literary Programs: paul@pen.org, +1 646 779.4828
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646 779.4830