New York City, May 20, 2011—PEN American Center, the largest branch of the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization, announced today that it will assume administration of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Founded by Barbara Kingsolver. The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.

Beginning in 2012, the $25,000 prize will be awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner will also receive a publishing contract with Algonquin Books, which will be the participating publisher for at least the next two awards cycles.  

“We’re enormously gratified to collaborate on this prize, which was conceived by its founder, Barbara Kingsolver, with the worthy aims of honoring fiction that encourages readers to examine their own prejudices, and of restoring literature with a moral conscience to the place of prominence in the U.S. that it holds within the literary traditions of many other countries,” PEN President Anthony Appiah said.

“I could not be happier with this meeting of minds,” said Barbara Kingsolver. “I first created the Bellwether Prize because I believe North American writers, publishers, and readers could participate more fully in the international current of socially and politically relevant literature. The goals of PEN mesh perfectly with this vision. After an exciting decade of winning manuscripts, I’m convinced that bringing PEN’s reputation and expertise to the prize will give it even more value in the decades ahead. ”

Previous Bellwether Prize recipients include: Donna Gershten in 2000 for Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth (HarperCollins); Gayle Brandeis, 2002, The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins); Marjorie Kowalski Cole, 2004, Correcting the Landscape (HarperCollins); Hillary Jordan, 2006, Mudbound (Algonquin Books); Heidi W. Durrow, 2008, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books); and Naomi Benaron, 2010, Running the Rift (Algonquin Books). All records and documents specifically relating to the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction will be donated to the Rare Book Manuscript and Special Collections Library of Duke University.

PEN will accept manuscripts from October 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. The winning manuscript will be chosen by a panel of three judges: one editor representing the participating publisher and two distinguished literary authors selected by PEN’s Literary Awards Committee in consultation with Barbara Kingsolver. Because the intent of the prize is to promote writers of conscience in the United States, eligible authors must be U.S. citizens. They also must have some publishing experience, but must not have published a work that has sold more than 10,000 copies. The first PEN/Bellwether Prize will be conferred at PEN’s Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2012.

The PEN Literary Awards are the most comprehensive in the United States. Each year, with the help of its partners and supporters, PEN confers more than $150,000 to writers, editors, and translators. More information about the PEN Awards can be found at

About PEN American Center
PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International , the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. International PEN was founded in 1921 to dispel national, ethnic, and racial tensions and to promote understanding among all countries. PEN American Center, founded a year later, works to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship. Its 3,400 distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and advancement of human rights of such past members as James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Eugene O’Neill, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. To learn more about the PEN American Center, please visit:

Alena Graedon, 212-334-1660, ext. 108
Stefanie Simons, 212-334-1660, ext. 122