PEN America Opens Submissions and Nominations for 2021 PEN America Literary Awards

The multiple interconnected crises facing our nation have forced us to reimagine our norms and institutions from the ground up,” said poet and PEN America Trustee Gregory Pardlo. “As individuals and organizations, we have had to call on the ingenuity of our foremothers to ‘make a way out of no way,’ as Zora Neale Hurston puts it, ingenuity that yields opportunity where, previously, there had only been struggle.



PEN America today announced the opening of submissions and nominations for the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards. Publishers and agents can submit books between now and August, and PEN America Members can nominate writers for the organization’s landmark career achievement awards.

Opportunity Knocks For

WRITERS OF COLOR

This year, PEN America announced it has increased the cash purse for the PEN Open Book Award to $10,000. The award is offered annually to a writer of color. It’s meant to challenge the lack of diversity in publishing by championing literary voices that traditionally do not see wide media coverage, encouraging the development of these talented writers, and recognizing the exemplary publishers and small presses who discover, nurture, and publish writers of color. Past winners of the PEN Open Book Award include Claudia Rankine, Meena Alexander, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among others.

“The multiple interconnected crises facing our nation have forced us to reimagine our norms and institutions from the ground up,” said poet and PEN America Trustee Gregory Pardlo. “As individuals and organizations, we have had to call on the ingenuity of our foremothers to ‘make a way out of no way,’ as Zora Neale Hurston puts it, ingenuity that yields opportunity where, previously, there had only been struggle. Strategic alterations to the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards demonstrate PEN America’s resourcefulness in pursuit of real structural change. Through the reimagined Literary Awards, PEN America redoubles its commitment to celebrating the talent and voices of the poets and writers most often marginalized by business as usual, and marshals its influence to counter inequities that distort the American literary landscape.”

PEN/Voelcker Award for

POETRY COLLECTION

The literary and free expression group will also offer a newly reimagined award, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection, for the best poetry collection of the year. In partnership with Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, PEN America will confer an increased cash purse for the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. PEN America will additionally confer two PEN/Jean Stein Grants for Literary Oral History, with increased cash prizes of $15,000 each.

Director of PEN America’s public programs Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf and the organization’s senior director of literary programs Chip Rolley are available to discuss:

  • The role literary awards play in diversifying the American literary canon;
  • How PEN America’s awards have changed careers over its half-century history;
  • And what PEN America’s enhanced awards program will offer emerging and established writers at a moment of acute financial difficulty for writers nationwide.

The 2020 PEN America Literary Awards, held March 2, conferred some $330,000 of transformative support on writers and translators. Hosted by Late Night’s Seth Meyers, it was the largest ceremony in the Awards program’s 56-year history. Honorees included Yiyun Li, Tom Stoppard, Tanya Barfield, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Rigoberto González, among others.

Click here to learn more about the PEN America Literary Awards.


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Debut Writers and Women Writers Sweep Up the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards

“Don’t write about what you remember; write about what you are unable to forget.” Sandra Cisneros



Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Wins Book of the Year PEN/Jean Stein Award With Largest Prize | Playwright Kenneth Lonergan Receives Debut PEN/Mike Nichols Award for Performance Writing | Sandra Cisneros Honored for Illustrious Career That Transcends Genres, Cultures, and Languages

Yesterday, PEN America announced the winners of the 2019 Literary Awards at a  ceremony where literary luminaries and publishing tastemakers celebrated emerging writers and paid homage to established voices. Debut authors and works by and about women prevailed in a year with a record number of submissions in the nation’s largest, most comprehensive literary awards program.

The worlds of Hollywood and literature converged with the debut of the PEN/ Mike Nichols Award for Performance Writing, conferred on film director, playwright, and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan for his exemplary portfolio of work in 2018, including two Broadway stage productions that ran simultaneously:“The Waverly Gallery,” originally produced in 1999, which follows an aging leftist activist as she battles Alzheimer’s, and“Lobby Hero,” originally produced in 2002, which chronicles the story of personal ambitions amid a murder mystery. The award, established by PEN America and Saturday Night Live creator and director Lorne Michaels, highlights transformative works that enlighten and inspire audiences in the tradition of venerated film and theater director, producer, and comedian Mike Nichols, who passed away in 2014. Matthew Broderick, who presented the award to Lonergan, said: “I always saw Mike as a teacher, and I find myself feeling the same way about Kenny. It’s not every day you get to present an award named for a dear friend, to a best friend.”

Mexican-American Writer, Sandra Cisneros

Novelist, poet, and essayist Sandra Cisneros (one of my personal faves), author of The House on Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, and many more beloved works, was lauded for a lifetime of extraordinary literary contribution and presented with the PEN/ Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. Judges Alexander Chee, Edwidge Danticat, and Valeria Luiselli noted her “formidable and awe-inspiring body of work, which includes fiction, memoir, and poetry,” adding that “it’s hard to imagine navigating our world today without her stories and her voice guiding us toward much needed reclamation and endurance.” Maria Hinojosa, presenting the award, recalled advice Cisneros had given her: “Don’t write about what you remember; write about what you are unable to forget.”

Cisneros dedicated her award to all those who have touched her life and shaped her as a writer: “Writers, poets, editors, truth tellers who offer light in the time of darkness; librarians and booksellers, patron saints in the age of distraction; the 6th grade teacher whose name I cannot remember, whose kindness I will not forget.”

In a shortlist dominated by debut writers, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah emerged as the winner of the PEN/ Jean Stein Award for book of the year, with the largest prize at  $75,000, for his short story collection Friday Black. Praised for its combination of “the real and surreal, the concrete and the mythological,” the judges lauded Adjei-Brenyah’s “cool control over his prose and dialogue while allowing his imagination to abandon constraints and conventions, exploring genetic enhancement, frenzied retail work, and soft friendships. At turns horrifying and funny, tender and savage, these stories stick with you, probing the American psyche and persistently asking more of us.” In his remarks, Adjei-Brenyah shared that: “In writing this book, I wanted these stories to be out in the world even if my name wasn’t associated with them. Maybe someone would feel seen, push a conversation that needed to happen… If we can imagine a world much worse than ours, we can collectively imagine one that is much better.”

Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Celebrating debut short story collections, the PEN/Bingham Prize was awarded to Will Mackin for Bring Out the Dog, portraying the devastation, absurdity, surrealism, and compassion in modern warfare, drawing from Mackin’s own experiences as a U.S. Navy veteran. Nafissa Thompson-Spires took home the PEN Open Book Award for Heads of the Colored People, her debut collection of short stories, a funny, sly, and devastating collection that examines the precariousness of black lives in the United States; and Imani Perry won the PEN/Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Looking For Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, an insightful, sharp, and empathetic exploration of the life of Hansberry—writer, cultural icon, and the first black female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Michelle Tea took home the prestigious PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essayfor the “singularly irresistible” voice of Against Memoir. Translator Martin Aitken won the PEN Translation Prize for his “luminous translation from the Norwegian of Hanne Ørstavik’s haunting novel Love, which follows the distant, orbiting lives of a mother and son like a telescope through one cold winter’s night.”

“Rather than a traditional celebration of achievement, PEN America’s juried awards probe the depths of the contemporary canon to identify and elevate essential voices and bring them to the widest possible audience,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “The PEN America Literary Awards are set apart by the alchemy of venerated names among the ranks of both winners and judges, and the bracing new talents whose careers are rocket-boosted by gaining recognition just as they burst on the scene.”

Katherine Seligman won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for her manuscript If You Knew, an urban noir exploring issues of homelessness and community in rapidly gentrifying San Francisco. In addition to a prize of $25,000, Seligman will receive a publishing contract with Algonquin Books.

Lifetime achievement and career awards were conferred upon authors, journalists, editors, playwrights, and poets. Jackie “Mac” MacMullan was awarded the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing, in recognition of the literary quality of her sportswriting, her exemplary use of the oral history form, and her many years as a newspaper columnist; she is also the first woman to receive this award. Larissa FastHorse received thePEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award in recognition of her exemplary and prolific output in a little over a decade that examines modern families, histories, languages, cultures, and communities. The Apogee literary journal’s Alexandra Watson won the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Editing for her exemplary stewardship of the publication, and for foregrounding writers of color and engaging with issues of race, gender, and class through the “Alternate Canon” series. Celebrating great promise in an early career poet, thePEN/Osterweil Award for Poetry was conferred upon Jonah Mixon-Webster for the high literary character of his debut collection, Stereo(TYPE), which explores the intersection of space and body, race and region, and sexuality and class; and wrestles with the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan.

In closing the ceremony, PEN America President Jennifer Egan reminded the audience that “the daring works we celebrate today are a testament to the freedom we have to write them.”

The sold-out ceremony was studded with musical, poetic, and dramatic performances, and riveting, live announcements of each winner. The evening included performances by Sweet Megg & Wayfarers, a dramatic rendition of FastHorse’s Urban Rez and What Would Crazy Horse Do by Jake Hart and Sera-Lys McArthur, and a moving tribute to literary icons lost in 2018. Comedian, filmmaker, and Ceremony host Hari Kondabolu brought roaring laughs, and sent the audience home with sound advice: “please get home safe: no reading and driving!”

All of the winners of the 2019 Literary Awards can be found HERE.

Photographs from the Literary Awards Ceremony will be available here. The video will be available on pen.org.

For over 50 years, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature, bestowing 20 distinct awards across genres from fiction and drama to sports and science writing, with cash prizes totaling more than $370,000 to writers and translators. This annual fête of literary excellence has become one of the defining literary events of the year.

This post is courtesy of PEN America. Photo credits: Sandra Cisneros courtesy of ksm36 under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Nafissa Thompson-Spires courtesy of her publisher via her Amazon page.

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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. pen.org


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THE YEAR OF THE WOMAN IN LITERATURE: LONGLISTS FOR 2019 PEN AMERICA LITERARY WARDS ANNOUNCED

British writer, Virgina Woolf (1882-1941) 1902/public domain photograph by George Charles Beresfor

“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own



PEN America released the longlists for its 2019 Literary Awards with 90 titles in the running for juried prizes honoring literary work including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and translation. Conferred by the country’s only organization that both celebrates literature and defends free expression, the PEN America Literary Awards honor literary excellence and celebrate voices that challenge, inform, and inspire. Prizes for debut fiction, international literature, science writing, sports writing, biography, essay writing and more will be awarded at the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2019 at the NYU Skirball Center in New York City.

The majority of the semi-finalists this year are women, including in categories long dominated by men, such as biography, where seven out of the 10 books longlisted are by women and six are about women. Longlisted works include: Zadie Smith’s Feel Free (Penguin Press); Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know; Jenny Xie’s Eye Level (Graywolf Press); Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black (Knopf); Jhumpa Lahiri for her translation of Domenico Starnone’s Trick (Europa Editions); Morgan Jerkins’ This Will Be My Undoing (Harper Perennial); Eliza Griswold’s Amity and Prosperity (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux); and many more.

In a period of time marked by nationalism and isolationism the PEN America Literary Awards continues its long-standing recognition of the finest writing in translation, with awards bestowed for both prose and poetry. This year, Sevinç Türkkan’s translation of Aslı Erdoğan’s The Stone Building and Other Places (City Lights) is longlisted at an especially poignant time, as Aslı Erdoğan awaits trial in Turkey and PEN America advocates for her release.

“With a record number of submissions to our Awards, including from small, medium, and large presses, the competition for this year’s awards is more intense than ever,” said Nadxieli Nieto, PEN America Literary Awards Program Director. “The renewed interest in literature and translation in this political moment is a testament to the power of readers and writers to advocate for new ideas, challenge the old ones, and propose new futures. Coming during a year when so many women have broken their silence to tell long-suppressed stories, our judges’ choices reflect the strength and breadth of women’s contributions across every category of literature.”

Finalists for the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards will be announced in January, and winners will be revealed at the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on February 26 at the NYU Skirball Center in New York. Announcements about finalists and winners of the following awards are forthcoming: the PEN/Jean Stein Book of the Year Award, PEN/Nabokov Award for International Literature, PEN/Osterweil Award for Poetry, PEN/Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, PEN/Pels Theater Award, PEN/Magid Award for Excellence in Editing, and the PEN/ ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award. Ticket sales for the Ceremony go on sale today and are available to the public here.

For over 50 years, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across such diverse fields as translation, fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama. With the help of its partners and supporters, PEN America will confer 22 distinct awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes in 2019, awarding more than $370,000 to writers and translators.

The full 2019 PEN America Literary Award longlists and more information about the Literary Awards program are available HERE.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. This organization 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.




Wednesday Writing Prompt will return on January 16, 2019.  

What would you find pleasant or helpful on The Poet by Day in 2019?  What have you found helpful to date? Link HERE to let me know.




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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”


The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

LGBT Cultural Pioneer Edmund White and Irish Novelist Edna O’Brien to be Honored for Lifetime Achievement

PEN America announced last week that it will honor author and LGBT cultural pioneer Edmund White with the annual PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

White at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival courtesy of David Shankbone under CC BY 3.0

EDMUND WHITE  (b. 1940) is an American novelist, memoirist, and an essayist on literary and social topics. Much of his writing is on the theme of same-sex love. His books include The Joy of Gay Sex (1977) (written with Charles Silverstein, a writer, therapist, lecturer and gay activist), his trio of autobiographic novels, A Boy’s Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), and his biography of Jean Genet. His website is HERE.  His Amazon page is HERE.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to watch this video.


The 2018 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature will go to the extraordinarily prolific Irish novelist Edna O’Brien, whose acclaimed work broke down social and sexual barriers for women in Ireland and elsewhere.

Edna O’Brien at Hay Festival 2016 courtesy of Andrew Lih under CC BY-SA 3.0

EDNA O’BRIEN, DBE (b. 1930) is an Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer. Philip Roth described her “the most gifted woman now writing in English”, while the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, cited her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation”.

O’Brien’s works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.Her first novel, The Country Girls, is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.The book was banned, burned and denounced from the pulpit, and O’Brien left Ireland behind.

O’Brien  received the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners won the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber published her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012.  Her Faber & Faber author’s page is HERE. Her Amazon page is HERE.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to watch this video.


PEN America will also honor:

  • poet Kamau Brathwaite with the PEN/ Voelcker Award,
  • translator Barbara Harshav with the PEN/ Manheim Medal for Translation, and
  • author Dave Kindred with the PEN/ ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing.

The PEN/ Laura Pels Foundation for Theater Awards will be conferred on playwrights:

  • Luis Alfaro for Master American Dramatist,
  • Sibyl Kempson for American Dramatist in Mid-Career, and
  • Mike Lew for Emerging American Playwright.

White, O’Brien, and PEN America’s other career achievement award winners will accept their prizes at the 2018 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 20, at the NYU Skirball Center near Washington Square Park. Featuring readings, performances, and edge-of-your-seat live announcements of the winners for the year’s prizes, this annual celebration of literature and free expression has become one the city’s premier literary events drawing the biggest names and the hottest new voices in literature. Special guests, finalists, and presenters in attendance will include:

  • Tanwi Nandini Islam
  • Yahdon Israel
  • Hari Kunzru
  • Victor LaValle
  • Colum McCann
  • Lynn Nottage
  • Philip Roth
  • Layli Long Soldier
  • Monique Truong
  • Kevin Young
  • David Zirin
    … and many more

Hosted by author, social activist, and political commentator
Sally Kohn

A full list of finalists for the 2018 PEN America Literary Awards is available HERE . All book award winners will be announced at the ceremony. Purchase tickets HERE. I understand that this is the first year tickets are being made available to the general public. Student tickets are discounted.


Compiled with thanks to PEN America, White’s website, Faber & Faber, Wikipedia and Amazon.

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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