2021 PEN America Literary Awards Longlists

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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.

Pen America has released longlists for their variety of literary awards. There are some expected choices and a few surprises, too.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

Notably, this is the first year that a single book appears on three lists: Sharks in the Time of Saviors, the debut novel from Kawai Strong Washburn, is longlisted for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, and the PEN Open Book Award.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson is longlisted twice, and so is Asako Serizawa’s Inheritors along with Luster: A Novel by Raven Leilani.

Nearly half of the writers on these lists identify as people of color, 60% are women, and half of the titles were put out by university or independent presses.

Finalists for the awards will be announced in February 2021. Now, on to the longlists!

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, 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 years 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.

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.

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