NEW YORK—The first and only prize for a debut short story collection in the United States, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, will be conferred for the first time at the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony, PEN America announced today. 

Founded in 2002 in honor of the late Robert W. Bingham—novelist, short story writer, co-founder of the famed Open City Books, and advocate of the short form—the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize celebrates the best new voices in short fiction and comes with a cash prize of $25,000. Though the prize has been open to both debut novels and short fiction collections in years past, it has long been a beacon for the short story form. The unification of PEN America’s New York-based literary awards and its sister awards programs in Los Angeles and Boston provided a perfect opportunity to refocus the award on short fiction. 

“We are all really excited about the new, more focused definition. It gets even closer to Rob, his experience, his interests in writing and supporting new writers,” writes Vanessa Chase Lilly, Robert W. Bingham’s widow.  

“With the generous support of the Bingham family, we are able to honor the promising and ambitious works of exemplary debut short story writers and support them as they work on their next books,” said Nadxieli Nieto, PEN America Literary Awards Program Director. “Short stories are especially relevant in today’s fast-paced world. They captivate, challenge, and inspire within only a few pages, distilling stories to their essence. We look forward to reading the submissions we receive, and celebrating literary excellence in the short story form.”

Last year’s PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize winner was Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, which “combines ingenious and tightly controlled technical artistry with an unfettered emotional directness that frequently moves, within single sentences, from overwhelming beauty to abject pain” writes Jia Tolentino in The New Yorker.

The PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, awarded annually in a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, will be PEN America’s flagship prize celebrating long-form debut fiction, with a cash prize of $25,000. 2018 winner Weike Wang’s Chemistry was described as “brilliant book” written in “elliptical prose, spare and clean as bone” by judges Chris Castellani, Geraldine Brooks, and Elizabeth Strout.  

The next PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony will be held in February 2019 in New York City, celebrating works published in 2018. Submissions for juried prizes are open through August 15, 2018. Find out more here.

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored outstanding voices in translation, fiction, poetry, science writing, essay, 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, awarding nearly $350,000 to writers and translators.


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.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: