PEN America announces 2021 Literary Awards longlists

PEN America, the writers organization that champions free speech around the world, has announced the longlists for its 2021 Literary Awards.

The awards will confer over $380,000 to writers and translators in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, translation, and more. Finalists will be announced in February.

You can support Read Her Like an Open Book by purchasing books mentioned here using this link: While I occasionally receive advance reading copies (mostly from indie presses), I buy most of the books I read from great independent bookstores around the country: Green Apple Books in SF, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Book People of Moscow (Idaho), Parnassus Books (Nashville), Still North Books (Hanover, NH), Volumes BookCafe in Chicago, and Epilogue Books (Chapel Hill, NC).


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

Borderland Apocrypha, Anthony Cody (Omnidawn)

Be Holding: A Poem, Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Pew, Catherine Lacey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Butterfly Lampshade, Aimee Bender (Doubleday)

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)

This is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home, Lauren Sandler (Random House)

The Freezer Door, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents)


PEN Open Book Award ($10,000)

To an exceptional book-length work of any literary genre by an author of color.

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

Deluge, Leila Chatti (Copper Canyon Press)

How to Pronounce Knife, Souvankham Thammavongsa (Little, Brown and Company)

A Treatise on Stars, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions Publishing)

The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir, E. J. Koh (Tin House)

Storage Unit for the Spirit House, Maw Shein Win (Omnidawn)

Wild Peach, S*an D. Henry-Smith (Futurepoem Books)

Inheritors, Asako Serizawa (Doubleday)

Little Gods, Meng Jin (Custom House)

Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)

Un-American, Hafizah Geter (Wesleyan University Press)


PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection ($25,000)

To an author whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future work.

Judges: Ben Marcus, Elizabeth McCracken, Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Alligator & Other Stories, Dima Alzayat (Two Dollar Radio)

If the Body Allows It: Stories, Megan Cummins (University of Nebraska Press)

Further News of Defeat: Stories, Michael X. Wang (Autumn House Press)

You Will Never Be Forgotten: Stories, Mary South (FSG Originals)

The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, Caroline Kim (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Imaginary Museums, Nicolette Polek (Soft Skull Press)

Adults and Other Children: Stories, Miriam Cohen (Ig Publishing)

A House Is a Body: Stories, Shruti Swamy (Algonquin Books)

Inheritors, Asako Serizawa (Doubleday)

Heartland Calamitous, Michael Credico (Autumn House 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

Crooked Hallelujah, Kelli Jo Ford (Grove Press)

Spindle City: A Novel, Jotham Burrello (Blackstone Publishing)

Goshen Road: A Novel, Bonnie Proudfoot (Swallow Press)

How Much of These Hills Is Gold: A Novel, C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books)

Temporary: A Novel, Hilary Leichter (Coffee House Press)

Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)

Shuggie Bain: A Novel, Douglas Stuart (Grove Press)

Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

These Ghosts Are Family: A Novel, Maisy Card (Simon & Schuster)

Cuyahoga: A Novel, Pete Beatty (Scribner)

You can see the nominees in other categories at

PEN America’s nationwide membership includes more than 7,200 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission. PEN A is the largest of PEN International’s 100 centers.


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