PEN America’s 2020 Literary Award Winners

In News by Porter Anderson

More than US$330,000 in prize money is attached to the annual PEN America Literary Awards, each of which is selected by a separate jury.

Tom Stoppard won the PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award at this week’s ceremony. Image: Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images for PEN America

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

Yiyun Li Wins the US$75,000 Jean Stein Prize
On Tuesday night at New York City’s Town Hall, PEN America announced its 2020 literary awards.

Since 1963, the program has honored writers in fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, biography, children’s literature, translation, and drama. This is one of the programs that has a list of different partners and supporters for each award.

The honors announced this week feature juried awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes, with a total purse of more than US$330,000 for writers and translators.

The PEN/Hemingway Award for a debut novel, however, is not announced in this tranche. It’s to be conferred on its winner in a separate event on April 5 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

PEN America Awards 2020 Winners

Yiyun Li speaks at the PEN Literary Awards 2020 on winning the Jean Stein Award. Image: Noam Galai, Getty Images for PEN America

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award (US75,000)

This award goes to a book-length work of any genre and is meant to recognize originality, merit, and impact. The jurors in this category are Marilyn Chin, Garth Greenwell, Rebecca Makkai, Michael Schaub, William T. Vollmann.

  • Where Reasons End, Yiyun Li (Penguin Random House)

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

This award is given to an author whose debut collection of short stories published in 2019 represents “distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.” The jurors in this category are Aimee Bender, Jamel Brinkley, Samantha Hunt, Randa Jarrar, and Elissa Schappell.

  • Last of Her Name, Mimi Lok (Kaya Press)

PEN Open Book Award (US$5,000)

This award is for a book-length work of any genre by an author of color, published in the United States in 2019. This award was juried by Ali Eteraz, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Dawn Lundy Martin, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, Camille Rankine, and Héctor Tobar.

  • The Grave on the Wall, Brandon Shimoda (City Lights Books)

PEN Translation Prize (US$3,000)

This award honors a book-length translation of prose from any language into English published in 2019. Jurors are Sean Gasper Bye, Jim Hicks, Geoffrey C. Howes, Sara Khalili, Elizabeth Lowe, and Jenny McPhee.

  • The Ten Loves of Nishino, Hiromi Kawakami (Europa Editions), translated from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell

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

This prize recognizes a book of essays published in 2019 that exemplifies the essay form. Its jury includes Jelani Cobb, Daniel Menaker, and Judith Thurman.

  • Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape, Deborah Fleming (Kent State University Press)

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

This award is juried this time by David W. Blight, Yunte Huang, Miriam Pawel, Rebecca Walker, and Shawn Wen.

  • Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (WW Norton & Company)

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

This prize honors literary excellence in a book on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience. It’s juried this year by Diane Ackerman, Rivka Galchen, Priyamvada Natarajan.

  • Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves, Frans de Waal (WW Norton & Company)

The audience at the 2020 PEN Literary Awards program at New York City’s Town Hall. Image: Noam Galai, Getty Images, for PEN America

PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature (US$3,000)

This award is meant to assist with the translation of Paraguayan literature from Spanish or Guarani into English. It’s open to both established and emerging Paraguayan writers. This year’s jurors: Margaret Carson, Ezra E. Fitz, Susan Smith Nash, Charlotte Whittle.

  • Pieles de Papel, Liz Haedo

PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature (US$50,000)

The award is conferred annually on a living author whose body of work, either written in or translated into English, represents achievement in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and/or drama, and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship. Jurors this year: Azam Zanganeh, George Elliott Clarke, Hari Kunzru, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Alexis Okeowo

  • M. Nourbese Philip

PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award

This honor goes to a playwright the jury considers to be working at a high level in mid-career. Jurors this year: Kirsten Greenidge, Naomi Iizuka, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

  • Tanya Barfield

PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry (US$5,000)

This prize goes to a poet whose body of work represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature. Jurors this year: Cornelius Eady, Linda Gregerson, Deborah Paredez, Monica Youn.

  • Rigoberto González

PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award (US$25,000)

This honor goes to a writer “whose work exemplifies excellence and influence in the world of theater, television, or film.”

  • Tom Stoppard

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

This award names 12 emerging fiction writers each year, each for a debut short story published during a given calendar year in a literary magazine or cultural site, and aims to support the launch of their careers as fiction writers. Jurors:  Tracy O’Neil, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Deb Olin Unferth.

  • “Bat Outta Hell” (Foglifter Journal), Damitri Martinez
  • “Cats vs. Cancer” (New England Review), Valerie Hegarty
  • “Dog Dreams” (Quarterly West), Sena Moon
  • “Don’t Go to Strangers” (Zyzzyva), Matthew Jeffrey Vegari
  • “Evangelina Concepcion” (Epiphany), Ani Sison Cooney
  • “Failure to Thrive” (The Paris Review), Willa Richards
  • “Gauri Kalyanam” (The Rumpus), Kristen Sahaana Surya
  • “Madam’s Sister” (Granta), Mbozi Haimbe
  • “Summertime” (Michigan Quarterly Review), Mohit Manohar
  • “The Good, Good Men” (Puerto del Sol, Black Voices Series), Shannon Sanders
  • “The Other Child” (The Threepenny Review), David Kelly Lawrence
  • “The Water Tower and the Turtle” (Granta), Kikuko Tsumura, translated by Polly Barton

For information on fellowships for work in progress, see the organization’s page here.

Information on some of this  year’s longlisted writers and works is here.

You can see a video of the program below. The program begins some 45 minutes into the tape.


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.