PEN America Literary Awards Finalists Announced

January 25, 2019

Book covers

PEN America has released its list of finalists for this year’s cycle of book awards. The 2019 PEN America Literary Awards will award over $370,000 to writers and translators across eleven different categories. According to PEN America, the Literary Awards began in 1963, and have since “honored many of the most outstanding voices in literature across diverse genres, including fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama.” A final winner will be chosen from a pool of five finalists in each of the eleven categories. Poets Ada Limón, José Olivarez, and Jenny Xie, fiction writers Tommy Orange, Ling Ma, and Helen DeWitt, and nonfiction writers Shane Bauer, Eliza Griswold, and Dunya Mikhail are among the many writers selected as finalists. The winners will be celebrated at a ceremony on February 26 at New York University’s Skirball Center.

Here are this year’s finalists for the PEN America Literary Awards, by category:

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award

For a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact.

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

Ada Limón, The Carrying: Poems (Milkweed Editions)

José Olivarez, Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books)

Richard Powers, The Overstory: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company)

Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (Random House)


PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection

To an author whose debut collection of short stories published in 2018 represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.

Chaya Bhuvaneswar, White Dancing Elephants (Dzanc Books)

Jamel Brinkley, A Lucky Man (Graywolf Press)

Helen DeWitt, Some Trick (New Directions)

Akil Kumarasamy, Half Gods (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Will Mackin, Bring Out the Dog (Random House)


PEN/Hemingway Award for a Debut Novel

For an exceptional debut novel published in 2018.

Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater (Grove Press)

Meghan Kenny, The Driest Season (W.W. Norton & Company)

Ling Ma, Severance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Tommy Orange, There There (Alfred A. Knopf)

Nico Walker, Cherry (Alfred A. Knopf)


PEN Open Book Award

To an exceptional book-length work of any genre by an author of color, published in the United States in 2018.

Shauna Barbosa, Cape Verdean Blues (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Tyrese Coleman, How to Sit: A Memoir in Stories and Essays (Mason Jar Press)

Ángel García, Teeth Never Sleep (University of Arkansas Press)

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

Jenny Xie, Eye Level (Graywolf Press)


PEN Translation Prize

For a book-length translation of prose from any language into English published in 2018.

Bernardo AtxagaNevada Days (Graywolf Press)
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

Négar DjavadiDisoriental (Europa Editions)
Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Asli ErdoganThe Stone Building and Other Places (City Lights)
Translated from the Turkish by Sevinç Türkkan

Hanne ØrstavikLove (Archipelago Books)
Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken

Domenico StarnoneTrick (Europa Editions)
Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri


PEN Award for Poetry in Translation

For a book-length translation of poetry from any language into English published in 2018.

Ahmed BouananiThe Shutters (New Directions)
Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

Jacek DehnelAperture (Zephyr Press)
Translated from the Polish by Karen Kovacik

Juan Gelman, Today (co•im•press)
Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Rose Bradford

Luljeta LleshanakuNegative Space (New Directions)
Translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika

Henri MichauxA Certain Plume (NYRB)
Translated from the French by Richard Sieburth


PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

For a book of essays published in 2018 that exemplifies the essay form.

Jabari AsimWe Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival (Picador)

Alexander CheeHow to Write an Autobiographical Novel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Brian PhillipsImpossible Owls (FSG Originals)

Zadie SmithFeel Free (Penguin Press)

Michelle TeaAgainst Memoir (Feminist Press)


PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography

For a distinguished biography published in 2018.

Andrea BarnetVisionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Changed Our World (Ecco)

Mark EisnerNeruda: The Poet’s Calling (Ecco)

Lauren HilgersPatriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown (Crown Publishing)

Imani PerryLooking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry (Beacon Press)

Joshua RivkinChalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly (Melville House)


PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction

To honor a distinguished book of general nonfiction published in 2017 or 2018.

Carol AndersonOne Person, No Vote (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Shane BauerAmerican Prison (Penguin Press)

Eliza GriswoldAmity and Prosperity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Dunya MikhailThe Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq (New Directions Publishing)

Bernice YeungIn a Day’s Work (The New Press)


PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing

For a book that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience.

Vince BeiserThe World in a Grain (Riverhead)

Andrea BuchananThe Beginning of Everything (Pegasus Books)

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

Lauren Slater, Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds (Little, Brown and Company)

Carl ZimmerShe Has Her Mother’s Laugh (Dutton Books)


PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing

To honor a nonfiction book on the subject of sports published in 2018.

Howard BryantThe Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism (Beacon Press)

Jane LeavyThe Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created (Harper)

Rowan Ricardo PhillipsThe Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

David RobertsLimits of the Known (W.W. Norton)

Albert SamahaNever Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City (Public Affairs)

Photo Credit: PEN America

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