PEN America Names Its 2019 Literary Award Laureates: $370,000 in Winnings

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The best literature, says PEN America president Jennifer Egan at the organization’s 2019 awards in New York City ’embodies hard truths, contradictions, and discoveries.’

At the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards ceremony, with the organization’s president Jennifer Egan at the podium. Image: @PENAmerican

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Pushing the Reader in New Directions’
Women and debut authors were prominently featured in tonight’s (February 26) PEN America Literary Awards ceremony at New York University’s Skirball Center.

The list of finalists is long and, in total, PEN’s awards program includes 22 awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes worth a total of more than US$370,000 in winnings. Categories among the literary awards range from debut short story collections to works by authors of color; from poetry in translation to essays; from biography and nonfiction to literary sports and science writing.

In a comment from the stage at NYU, the organization’s president, author Jennifer Egan, is quoted, saying, “Literary expression at its finest, in addition to providing transporting and compulsive reading, embodies hard truths, contradictions, and discoveries that push the reader in new directions.”

While most press materials are at this writing unavailable as yet, here is a list of winners announced tonight.

Martin Aitken wins PEN America’s 2019 PEN Translation Prize. Image: @PENAmerican

Winners, 2019 PEN America Literary Awards

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award (US$75,000)

  • Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner Books)

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a Debut Short Story Collection (US$25,000)

  • Bring Out the Dog, Will Mackin (Random House)

PEN Open Book Award (US$5,000)

  • Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Atria)

PEN Translation Prize (US$3,000)

  • Love, Hanne Ørstavik (Archipelago Books), translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken

PEN Award for Poetry in Translation (US3,000)

  • A Certain Plume, Henri Michaux (NYRB), translated from the French by Richard Sieburth

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay (US$10,000)

  • Against Memoir, Michelle Tea (Feminist Press)

PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography (US$5,000)

  • Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, Imani Perry (Beacon Press)

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction (US$10,000)

  • In a Day’s Work, Bernice Yeung (The New Press)

PEN/EO Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing (US$10,000)

  • Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, Ben Goldfarb (Chelsea Green)

PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing (US$5,000)

  • The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey, Rowan Ricardo Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers

This award recognizes 12 emerging fiction writers, each for a debut story published during the calendar year in a literary magazine or on a cultural site.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips arrives onstage to accept PEN America’s sports writing award for ‘The Circuit’ from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Image @PEN American

PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction (US$25,000)

This award is for a literary novel-in-progress that addresses social justice issues and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The category was juried by Hillary Jordan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Kathy Pories.

  • Katherine Seligman, If You Knew (work-in-progress)

PEN/Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History (US$10,000)

This grant is for a literary work of nonfiction that uses oral history to illuminate an event, individual, place, or movement. Jurors in this case were Nana-Ama Danquah, McKenzie Funk, Syreeta McFadden, Christina Sharpe, and Linda Villarosa.

  • Loida Maritza Pérez, Beyond the Pale (work-in-progress)

PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship (US$5,000)

This is an award for an author of children’s or YA fiction, whose work is of high literary caliber. The fellowship is meant “to assist a writer at a crucial moment in his or her career to complete a book-length work-in-progress.”

  • Noni Carter, Womb Talk (work-in-progress)

Information on the many jurors behind the 2019 awards is here.

At the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards ceremony. Image: @PENAmerica


More from Publishing Perspectives on PEN America is here. And more on publishing and literary awards is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.