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2021 PEN America Literary Awards Finalists Announced

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Tracy Shapley Towley

Staff Writer

Tracy is a freelance copywriter, all-around ne’er do well, very-adult graduate of the University of Iowa, and occasional waterer of plants. Her hobbies include writing fiction, reading fiction, mixing together various flavors of soup, and typing letters to her friends on an old red typewriter that doesn't have a working period so all sentences must end in questions marks or exclamation points? She has read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and has a lot of thoughts on them. Her old Iowa farmhouse is shared by her husband Sean, a pair of cats, a pair of dogs, and the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut.

In December I told you about the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards Longlist. As promised, they have now released their finalists.

The virtual Literary Awards Ceremony will be held on April 8, 2021.

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award

This $75,000 award is given 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.” This year’s judges were Vievee Francis, Fred Moten, and Tommy Orange.

PEN Open Book Award

Given to “an exceptional book-length work of any literary genre by an author of color,” this $10,000 award was judged this year by Toi Derricotte, Brandon Hobson, Katie Kitamura, Jamil Jan Kochai, Akil Kumarasamy, and Solmaz Sharif.

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

This $25,000 award goes “to an author whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future work.” This year’s judges were Ben Marcus, Elizabeth McCracken, and Ingrid Rojas Contreras.

PEN/Hemingway Award For Debut Novel

This $10,000 award goes to “a debut novel of exceptional literary merit by an American author.” Judges for the 2021 awards were Ramona Ausubel, Jack Livings, and Stuart Nadler.

PEN/Voelcker Award For Poetry Collection

This $5,000 award goes to “a poet whose distinguished collection of poetry represents a notable and accomplished literary presence,” and was judged by Sherwin Bitsui, Cynthia Cruz, Terrance Hayes, Claudia Keelan, and Bao Phi.

PEN Award For Poetry In Translation

The winner of this award “for a book-length translation of poetry from any language into English” gets $3,000. The judges are Daniel Borzutsky, Marissa Davis, and Meg Matich.

  • Lean Against This Late Hour by Garous Abdolmalekian (Penguin Books) Translated from the Persian by Ahmad Nadalizadeh and Idra Novey 
  • Raised by Wolves: Poems and Conversations by Amang (Phoneme Media) Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury
  • Sense Violence by Helena Boberg (Black Ocean) Translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson
  • Katabasis by Lucía Estrada (Eulalia Books) Translated from the Spanish by Olivia Lott
  • A New Orthography by Serhiy Zhadan (Lost Horse Press) Translated from the Ukrainian by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

PEN Translation Prize

$3,000 goes to the winner of the best “book-length translation of prose from any language into English.” Judges are Jacqui Cornetta, Somrita Urni Ganguly, Ana L. Méndez-Oliver, Amanda Sarasien, Niloufar Talebi, and Sevinç Türkkan.

  • Our Riches by Kaouther Adimi (New Directions Publishing) Translated from the French by Chris Andrews 
  • That Hair: A Novel by Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida (Tin House) Translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker
  • Ornamental by Juan Cárdenas (Coffee House Press) Translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis
  • Girls Lost by Jessica Schiefauer (Deep Vellum) Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
  • A Country for Dying: A Novel by Abdellah Taïa (Seven Stories Press) Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award For The Art Of The Essay

$15,000 goes to “a seasoned writer whose collection of essays is an expansion on their corpus of work and preserves the distinguished art form of the essay.” 2021 judges are Sandra Cisneros, John D’Agata, and Adam Gopnik.

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

This $10,000 award is given “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.” Judges are Nassir Ghaemi, Christine Kenneally, Erin Macdonald, and Banu Subramaniam.

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award For Biography

The winner of “a biography of exceptional literary, narrative, and artistic merit, based on scrupulous research” receives $5,000. Judges are Nicholas Buccola, Karl Jacoby, Nell Painter, and Anna Whitelock.

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award For Nonfiction

“For a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective that illuminates important contemporary issues,” this award is judged by Roxane Gay, Thomas Page McBee, Dunya Mikhail, Eric Schlosser, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Laura Wides-Muñoz. The prize is $10,000.

Disclosure: Book Riot’s managing editor is on the PEN America Literary Awards Committee