(New York, NY) — Today PEN America announced the winners of its emerging writers’ prizes, the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Writer Jamila Minnicks Gleason is the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize recipient for her unpublished manuscript Hydrangeas of New Jessup—which will be published by Algonquin Books as part of the award conferral—and 12 writers will receive the PEN/Dau Prize, with their stories published as part of the annual anthology Best Debut Short Stories: The PEN America Dau Prize from Catapult Books. The awards will be conferred as part of the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony to be held virtually Thursday, April 8.

“Taken together, these prizes are designed to launch the careers of new writers, and to bring to the table original voices and stories that deserve to be told,” said Jane Marchant, director of PEN America’s Literary Awards program. “We’re deeply grateful to the incredible panels of judges who have carefully discussed the merits of these works, and we cannot wait to celebrate the winners virtually this spring.”

The PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction is a career-founding prize, which promotes fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. Established by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000, it biennially awards $25,000 to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. This year’s recipient—Jamila Minnicks Gleason’s Hydrangeas of New Jessup—tells the story of Alice Young, who in 1957 flees her home and disappears into an Alabama town isolated from white people, in line with principles endorsed by Booker T. Washington. As Gleason writes, the novel “functions as socially engaged fiction because it challenges the idea that African Americans believe in a monolithic approach to social justice.” 

Now in its fifth year, the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers annually recognizes 12 emerging writers with $2,000 each for a debut short story published in a literary magazine, journal, or cultural website. The prize is generously supported by the family of the late Robert J. Dau, whose commitment to the literary arts has made him a fitting namesake for this career-launching prize. This year’s judges—Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Beth Piatote—selected 12 stories from dynamic literary publications to receive the PEN/Dau Prize. The winning authors are:

PEN America previously announced the finalists for its individual book prizes. The announcement of career achievement awards, special guests, and the Literary Awards Ceremony host will come in March. 

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama. With the help of our partners, PEN America confers over 20 distinct awards, fellowships, grants and prizes each year, and will confer over $380,000 to writers and translators at the April 8 virtual Ceremony.