EDWARD BUNKER PRIZE IN FICTION to Celebrate Literary Excellence by Writers in Prison; The Prison Writer Awards

PEN America nonprofit logo under

Last week PEN America announced the launch of the PEN/Edward Bunker Prize in Fiction. This to honor the legacy of the famed crime fiction author and screenwriter. The PEN/Bunker Prize will celebrate short works in fiction by writers who are currently incarcerated and will be presented for the first time as part of the PEN America’s 2019 Prison Writing Awards.

Public domain photograph of Edward Bunker taken at an unknown California prison.

EDWARD BUNKER, who became a prolific writer while incarcerated, leveraged the power of the writing process to reinvent himself into the iconic storyteller author and screenwriter we know today. Celebrated for conceiving some of the most gripping crime stories of our time, he penned numerous books, collaborated with celebrity A-listers like Quentin Tarantino and Danny Trejo, was a screenwriter on Straight Time (1978), Runaway Train (1985) and Animal Factory (2000), and acted alongside Hollywood elite in films such as The Running Man, Tango & Cash, and Reservoir Dogs. Thirteen years after his death, his legacy and the transformative power of writing continues through his family’s support of the PEN America Prison Writing Program.

In addition to a cash prize, each recipient will be paired with a writing mentor and given a clear Swintec typewriter—the only typewriter allowed in U.S. prisons, and the one used by Edward Bunker when he first began to write.

“Eddie Bunker’s inspirational legacy is threaded through the hundreds of submissions that pour into PEN America’s Prison Writing Awards each year,” said Caits Meissner, PEN America Prison and Justice Writing Program manager. “Like Eddie, our writers use the written word to expose the painful aspects of incarceration, as well as offer up moments of triumphant humanity that shine light into dark spaces. Thirteen years after his passing, we’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue Eddie’s legacy of transformative writing with his family’s generous support of our program.”

“The Bunker prize is a perfect match for what PEN America is doing with the Prison and Justice Program—reaching out to prisoners who have turned to writing as a salvation, and hopefully a future. I wanted to bring hope and inspiration to those important voices out there that have value and need to be heard. And just as importantly, because our son, Brendan Bunker, sees this as one more way to keep his father and his work immortalized,” said Jennifer Steele, wife of Eddie Bunker.

PEN America’s Prison Writing Program, founded in 1971 in the wake of the Attica riots, advances the restorative, rehabilitative, and transformative possibilities of writing, and has offered many thousands of incarcerated writers free writing resources, skilled mentors, and audiences for their work. A hallmark of the program is the PEN America Prison Writing Awards, which recognizes works by incarcerated writers in poetry, fiction, drama, nonfiction, and memoir.

The crowded living quarters of San Quentin Prison in California, in January 2006. As a result of overcrowding in the California state prison system, the United States Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population (the second largest in the nation, after Texas). Public domain photograph

Every year hundreds of imprisoned writers from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to the Prison Writing Awards, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.

This month, the first print anthology of award-winning works from the Prison Writing Awards will be published. And, yesterday, September 13, PEN America presented Break Out: Voices from the Inside at the Brooklyn Book Festival, featuring readings and artistic interpretations of works by incarcerated writers, staged by prominent authors on the outside. This is part of a series of events centered on mass incarceration and writers in prison. For more information visit the events calendar.


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.


Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I 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.

Leading Historians, Novelists, Poets and Children’s Writers Are Among the Authors to be Featured during U.S. 2018 National Book Festival

The Washington, D.C. Convention Center at Mount Vernon Square courtesy of APK like a lollipop under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Dozens of best-selling authors, leading historians, American poets and children’s writers will be featured speakers at the U.S. Library of Congress 2018 National Book Festival. The festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.  This year’s schedule includes a wide-ranging mix of authors and genres.


Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will discuss her new book, Fascism: A Warning, a history of fascism in the 20th century and how its legacy shapes the world.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin will speak about her new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, an examination of leadership based on four presidents she has studied most closely.

Historian Jon Meacham will discuss his new book, The Soul of America, about critical times in our history when hope overcame fear and division.

Alexander Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow is back with a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant.


Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith will join the festival for a conversation with former Poet Laureate Robert Hass about the making of poetry.

American Author, Amy Tan (b. 1952). Her work explores mother-daughter relationships and the Chinese American experience. Public Domain photo courtesy of Robert Foothorap

Best-selling author Amy Tan will discuss her new memoir, Where the Past Begins, A Writer’s Memoir, delving into memories of her traumatic childhood, the inspiration behind her fiction writings and the workings of her mind as a writer.


Children’s author and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz will discuss his debut picture book, Island Born, about a girl who can’t remember the island where she immigrated from – so she imagines it with help from family and friends.

Matt de la Peña and Loren Long will discuss their new children’s book, Love.

Leigh Bardugo will speak about her series, Six of Crows, a young adult best-seller.

Jacqueline Woodson, the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, will discuss two new books she has been writing.


Isabel Allende will discuss her novel In the Midst of Winter. The story is about an academic who rear-ends a car driven by an undocumented immigrant and an adventure that unfolds.

Dave Eggars will discuss his new book, The Monk of Mokha, the true story of a young Yemeni American man’s quest to resurrect the ancient art of Yemeni coffee but is trapped by civil war.

American Novelist and Short Story Writer, Jennifer Egan (b. 1962), is the author of several novels and a short story collection. Her new novel, Manhattan Beach, published last fall, has been awarded the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Her last novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times book prize. Also a journalist, she has written frequently in the New York Times Magazine. Photo courtesy of David Shankbone under CC BY 3.0.

Jennifer Egan will discuss her historical novel Manhattan Beach, set in the docks of Brooklyn during World War II when a girl becomes the first female diver on the squad.

Additional authors—including the Main Stage lineup—and other details of the festival will be announced in the coming months.

More information and updates will be available on the National Book Festival website at loc.gov/bookfest/.

Later this summer, the National Book Festival app will be updated with complete presenter, schedule and wayfinding information for iOS or Android smartphones. Follow the festival on Twitter @librarycongress with hashtag #NatBookFest.

The Main Reading Room of the U.S. Library of Congress courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith. Public domain.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov, and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.


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.


How to Win Readers and Influence Booksellers, a word to the wise writer

Seen at my fave used-book store – B Street Books (San Mateo, CA) – a long time ago.

I once had a survival job* at a brick-and-mortar mega-bookstore. Authors would sometimes come in to see how their books were doing, where their books were displayed and so forth. Those of the narcissistic variety were sure to posture and try to throw their weight around. They would want to talk with the manager and a bookseller or two, hoping to get sales stats and to bully staff into recommending their books to customers. There was little trust. They were sure their publishers weren’t reporting sales honestly. This last, of course, would affect royalties. These writers were condescending as well as rude.

As you might imagine, strut-and-push strategies achieve nothing. Bookstore management and staff are forbidden to share sales data with anyone, including authors. Staff don’t have control over the placement of books in the store. That’s dictated by corporate, which has negotiated contractual agreements with publisher regarding book placement.

Having said that, it’s actually a good idea to go into bookstores and talk to staff. If it’s not a busy day, introduce yourself.  You might ask about their jobs, how they like them, what kind of books they read. Show some interest in booksellers. Remember the adage about honey vs. vinegar.

“I did discover that if you’re interested in low wages, a bookstore ranks below retail clothing sales, except the hours are worse.” Sue Grafton, American novelist (detective stories)

Working in a mega-bookstore might sound romantic to a bibliophile, but it’s hard work. It’s pretty thankless and it’s not well-paid. It involves lifting and moving heavy boxes of books, pushing H-carts, dragging hand trucks, dealing with demanding customers and stressed managers. There are no civilized corner offices with windows. There are shabby lunchrooms and rushed-half-hour lunches, two ten-minute breaks. There are sore feet and aching backs. Our regional manager used to say that if you didn’t hurt at the end of a shift you weren’t doing your job.

Resetting the store after closing is not the sweet enchanted thing illustrated in the video below. It’s fast paced and onerous. Everyone is tired.  Some people will close the store late at night and have to be back early in the morning without having had enough sleep.

If you do visit bookstores, say “thank you” for all the hard work. Congratulate the booksellers on the store’s appearance. Drizzle a little honey. Booksellers will remember you as kind and be more inclined to read and recommend your books.

* a survival job is not a career position just something taken to pay the bills until more appropriate work is found

Note: If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, it’s likely you’ll have to link through to the site to play the video.

This post is dedicated to booksellers everywhere. 

© 2016, Jamie Dedes