(New York, NY) – Critically-acclaimed debut novelist Ruchika Tomar is the winner of the 2020 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, for A Prayer for Travelers (Riverhead), PEN America announced today. Honoring a distinguished first novel, the PEN/Hemingway Award includes a $25,000 prize intended to allow significant time and resources with which to pursue a subsequent work of fiction. The prize is underwritten by the Hemingway family and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation. Tomar will also receive a month-long Residency Fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a retreat for artists and writers, valued at $10,000.  

This year’s judges—R.O. Kwon, Terese Marie Mailhot, and David L. Ulin—wrote the following 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.”

Hailing from California’s Inland Empire, Tomar, holds a BA in English literature from the University of California Irvine and an MFA from Columbia University. She has received fellowships from the Center for Fiction, the MacDowell Colony, and Vermont Studio Center. A former Stegner Fellow, Tomar is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the Hemingway family and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation for the sincere honor of this award, and to PEN America for their tireless advocacy on behalf of writers and international literature,” Tomar said.

Tomar joins other notable PEN/Hemingway winners and honorees including Marilynne Robinson, Edward P. Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Colson Whitehead, Tommy Orange, Jennifer Haigh, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Ha Jin, Yiyun Li, Teju Cole, and Ottessa Moshfegh—a four-decade lineage of literary excellence founded in 1976 by Mary Hemingway, the widow of Ernest Hemingway, to honor her late husband and draw attention to debut novels. (Learn more here.)

The two PEN/Hemingway Award runners-up are Stay and Fight by Madeline ffitch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and The Travelers by Regina Porter (Hogarth). Alongside finalists 99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai and Big Familia by Tomas Moniz, all finalists and runners-up for the prize will receive a Residency Fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming.

Under normal circumstances, the PEN/Hemingway Award Ceremony takes place at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, and is free and open to the public. Due to current concerns of the COVID-19 virus, PEN America and the Library are saddened to inform the public that the 2020 Ceremony is postponed until further notice. We are working hard to properly honor these writers in a way that is safe for them and the Boston community. Those interested in attending should email awards@pen.org or visit www.jfklibrary.org for updates.

The PEN/Hemingway Award Ceremony is supported by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the Hemingway family, and the Friends of the Ernest Hemingway Collection.


The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum spans Hemingway’s entire lifetime and contains ninety percent of Hemingway’s known manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis described Mary Hemingway’s gift of Ernest Hemingway’s papers to the Kennedy Library as helping “to fulfill our hopes that the Library will become a center for the study of American civilization, in all its aspects.”

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.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892