PEN America announces finalists for 2021 Literary Awards

PEN America, the writers organization that champions free speech around the world, has announced the finalists for its 2021 Literary Awards. (You can see the longlist here.)

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.

Winners will be celebrated at the virtual Literary Awards Ceremony on April 8, 2021.

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, like Green Apple Books (San Francisco), Cafe Con Libros (Brooklyn), and Parnassus Books (Nashville).

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)

The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel, Akwaeke Emezi (Riverhead Books)

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

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

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


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

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

Un-American, Hafizah Geter (Wesleyan University Press)

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

Inheritors, Asako Serizawa (Doubleday)

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


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)

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

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

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

Further News of Defeat: Stories, Michael X. Wang (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

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

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

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

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

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

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
Ornamental, Juan Cárdenas
(Coffee House Press)
Translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis
Girls Lost, Jessica Schiefauer
(Deep Vellum)
Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
A Country for Dying: A Novel, Abdellah Taïa
(Seven Stories Press)
Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan

For the finalists in categories other than fiction, see

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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