PEN America’s 2021 Awards Winners Include Translators Emma Ramadan, Steve Bradbury

In News by Porter Anderson

The annual presentation of PEN America’s literary awards and career achievement honors was produced digitally for a second year.

A collage of some 55 finalists in the PEN America 2021 Literary Awards program. Image: PEN America

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

Nossel: ‘This Year of Tumult and Torment’
In our previews of the PEN America Literary Award finalists and the program’s Career Achievement Prize recipients, Publishing Perspectives readers looked at one of the more complex annual presentations of a broad range of disparate awards.

Funded by many generous  donors and presented on varying schedules, the program carries a combined value of more than US$380,000 in prize money and these awards carry the luster of PEN’s humanitarian stance when conferred on an author’s work.

The 2021 awards program, presented Thursday evening (April 8) in its digital format, ran for a bit over 90 minutes and featured a range of presenters and award winners.

We’ll embed the video of the show at the end of this article for you for your review and offer some of the high points in the program’s wins, beginning with two relevant to our readership’s internationalist stance and interest in translation.

Presenters and special appearances in the digital event included Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald, Kara Young, Laurie Anderson, and others, and the program’s online evocation was cleanly edited for smooth running and probably as much coherence as can be gathered in an event that features so many awards, finalists, speakers, and related (or not so related) moments.

Social relevance—for many right reasons—always tends to override the focus on literature at this event, and you can hear that represented, for example, in a comment from PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel: “Another lesson of this year of tumult and torment lies in the power of those taken away from us to evoke, mobilize, and motivate. We have learned how saying their names can convert their will to live into a fire that burns inside each of us.”

2021 PEN Literary Award Winners
  • Translator Emma Ramadan’s translation of A Country for Dying: A Novel by Abdellah Taïa (Seven Stories Press, 2020) received the PEN Translation Prize ($3,000) for a book-length translation of prose from any language into English.
  • Steve Bradbury’s translation of Raised by Wolves: Poems and Conversations by Amang received the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000 prize) for a book-length translation of poetry from any language into English.
  • Ross Gay’s Be Holding: A Poem received the fifth PEN Jean Stein Book Award ($75,000) for “a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.”
  • Asako Serizawa’s Inheritors received the PEN Open Book Award ($10,000) for book-length work of any literary genre by an author of color.
  • Michael X. Wang’s Further News of Defeat: Stories received the PEN Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection ($25,000) for an author “whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future work.”
  • Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel received the PEN Hemingway Award for Debut Novel ($10,000) for a debut novel of exceptional literary merit by an American author.
  • Barbara Ehrenreich’s Had I Known: Collected Essays received the PEN Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($15,000 prize) for “a seasoned writer whose collection of essays is an expansion on their corpus of work and preserves the distinguished art form of the essay.”
  • Victoria Chang’s Obit received the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection ($5,000) for “a poet whose distinguished collection of poetry represents a notable and accomplished literary presence.”
  • Jonathan C. Slaght’s Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl received the PEN EO Wilson Literary Science Writing Award ($10,000) for a work that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience.
  • Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals received the PEN John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction ($10,000) for a distinguished book of general nonfiction published in 2019 or 2020, possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective that illuminates important contemporary issues.
  • Amy Stanley’s Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World received the PEN Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000) for a biography of exceptional literary, narrative, and artistic merit, based on scrupulous research.

The program can be reviewed below:


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

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.