PEN America literary awards

The longlists for the PEN America literary awards 2021 were announced today, Tuesday, December 22, 2020. Here are the Africans and African Americans in the running.

PEN America, founded in 1922, is an organization that works to defend and celebrate free expression in the United States through the advancement of literature and human rights. It is affiliated with Pen International. PEN originally stood for “Poets, Essayists, Novelists”, but now stands for “Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists”, and includes writers of any form of literature, such as journalists and historians.

Pen America has held annual awards celebrating outstanding voices in translation, fiction, poetry, science writing, essay, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, and drama since 1963. Those who are in the running for this year’s honours were announced today and there are many African/African American people in the running for the $380,000 prize money on offer.

Here they are in the categories they were listed in (please note that there were categories that did not have any African or African American longlistees);

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

To 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.

Judges: Vievee Francis, Fred Moten, Tommy Orange

  • Be Holding: A Poem, Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press)
  • Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel, Akwaeke Emezi (Riverhead Books)
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)

PEN Open Book Award ($10,000)

For an exceptional book-length work of any genre by a writer of colour.

Judges: Toi Derricotte, Brandon Hobson, Katie Kitamura, Jamil Jan Kochai, Akil Kumarasamy, Solmaz Sharif

  • Wild Peach, S*an D. Henry-Smith (Futurepoem Books)
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)
  • Un-American, Hafizah Geter (Wesleyan University Press)

PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel ($10,000)

To a debut novel of exceptional literary merit by an American author.

Judges: Ramona Ausubel, Jack Livings, Stuart Nadler

  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)
  • Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • These Ghosts Are Family: A Novel, Maisy Card (Simon & Schuster)

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

For an outstanding poetry collection that represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature.

Judges: Sherwin Bitsui, Cynthia Cruz, Terrance Hayes, Claudia Keelan, Bao Phi

  • Negotiations: Poems, Destiny O. Birdsong (Tin House)
  • The Age of Phillis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Wesleyan University Press)
  • Homie: Poems, Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
  • Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, John Murillo (Four Way Books)

PEN Translation Prize ($3,000)

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

Judges: Jacqui Cornetta, Somrita Urni Ganguly, Ana L. Méndez-Oliver, Amanda Sarasien, Niloufar Talebi, Sevinç Türkkan

  • A Country for Dying: A Novel, Abdellah Taïa (Seven Stories Press) Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan
  • Mansour’s Eyes, Ryad Girod (Transit Books) Translated from the French by Chris Clarke
  • Our Riches, Kaouther Adimi (New Directions Publishing) Translated from the French by Chris Andrews
  • That Hair: A Novel, Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida (Tin House) Translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($15,000)

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.

Judges: Sandra Cisneros, John D’Agata, Adam Gopnik

  • Wow, No Thank You.: Essays, Samantha Irby (Vintage)

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000)

For a biography of exceptional literary, narrative, and artistic merit, based on scrupulous research.

Judges: Nicholas Buccola, Karl Jacoby, Nell Painter, Anna Whitelock

  • The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Peniel E. Joseph (Basic Books)

For a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective that illuminates important contemporary issues.

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

Judges: Roxane Gay, Thomas Page McBee, Dunya Mikhail, Eric Schlosser, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Laura Wides-Muñoz

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)
  • Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals, Saidiya Hartman (W. W. Norton & Company)
  • The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom (Grove Atlantic)

You can check out a full list of those longlisted for the awards at the following address.

Finalists for all book awards will be announced in February 2021.