PEN America announced the finalists for the 2018 Literary Awards last week, revealing a diverse roster of authors and works to recognize today’s best literature and translation spanning genres and continents.

For the first time, the finalist pool for the prestigious PEN/ Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction is comprised entirely of women and includes:

  • Hannah Lillith Assadi for Sonora (Soho Press),
  • Venita Blackburn for Black Jesus and Other Superheroes: Stories (University of Nebraska Press),
  • Carmen Maria Machado for Her Body and Other Parties: Stories (Graywolf Press),
    Emily Fridlund for History of Wolves (Grove Atlantic), and
  • Jenny Zhang for Sour Heart (Lenny).

The announcement also included finalists for the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Award for book of the year, one of the largest U.S. literary prizes, established last year by the late author and oral historian. Addressing some of the key themes of our time from fraudulent news to systemic racism, the list includes:

  •  White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Alfred A. Knopf),
  • We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World),
  • Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf Press),
  • Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News by Kevin Young (Graywolf Press), and
  • The Changeling by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau).

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018), whose death on January 22nd in Portland is deeply felt, is shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award, Art of the Essay for her No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, which is the collected writing from the blog she started at 81 years.

According to the New York Times obit, Ms. Le Guin published twenty novels, a dozen poetry collections, over one-hundred short stories, seven collections of essays, thirteen children’s books, and five volumes of translation. The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination is a worthy addition to every writer’s bookshelf. Recommended.

The video below is of Ms. Le Guin’s wisdom-filled acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

“We will need writers,” she says, “who remember freedom . . . poets, visionaries … the realists of a larger reality.”

(If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, it’s likely you’ll need to link through to the site to watch the video.)

The new film adaption of Ms. Le Guin’s science fiction fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time, is due out in theaters on March 9.)

Ms. Le Guin’s photograph © 2003 by Joyce Scrivner

PEN, Exc. Dir. Suzanne Nossel

“It is fitting that our Literary Awards this year spotlight five new women’s voices in fiction, as well as a dazzling diversity of writers for our flagship Stein prize and in other categories,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “PEN America’s Literary Awards celebrate some of the greatest fruits of free expression—stories that inspire, spark empathy, and change minds. At a time when the fabric of our discourse is being torn by polarization, technological change, and political upheaval, literature has the power to help us see past impasse and imagine a different future.” 

Winners of the 2018 PEN America Literary Awards will be revealed at the February 20 ceremony at the NYU Skirball Center in New York.  The ceremony will feature performances of honored works and will be followed by a champagne toast. Link for the complete list of finalists. PEN announced that for the first time it is offering a limited number of tickets to the general public. PURCHASE TICKETS.

For over fifty years, the PEN America 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 America will confer twenty-four distinct awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes in 2018, awarding more than $350,000 to writers and translators.


Sources: Ms. Le Guin’s website, PEN America, Amazon, Wikipedia, and the New York Times. PEN America nonprofit logo by Mltellman under CC BY-SA 4.0 license; photo credit Suzanne Nossel by PEN America under CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


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