OVERVIEW: PEN America, the U.S. branch of the world’s oldest international literary and human rights organization, is one of the largest and most respected literary organizations in the country. Its fellowships and prizes are some of the most widely respected and highly sought after in the field of writing. Though competition can be fierce, just receiving a PEN America honor can be more valuable than the amount of the award itself.
IP TAKE: PEN America awards and fellowships run the gamut from beginner to professional and fiction to nonfiction, but regardless of who is seeking which honor, the competition can be some of the toughest out there.
PROFILE: PEN America gives out over $150,000 in awards and grants each year to writers in the areas of fiction, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, drama, and poetry. It also maintains programs like the World Voices Festival, Prison Writing Program, Children's and Young Adult Authors Committee, PEN America Journal, and the Open Book Program, which encourages racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities.
The laundry list of PEN America awards, grants, and fellowships are as follows:
- PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize - $25,000 for a debut work of fiction—novel or short story collection—that shows exceptional promise. Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents.
- PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship - $5,000 to an author of children's or young-adult fiction with demonstrated financial need.
- PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry - $5,000 in recognition of the "high literary character of the published work to date of a new and emerging American poet of any age and the promise of further literary achievement" (alternates with the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry). This award is only given to writers who have published a single book of poetry. Individuals cannot self-nominate for this award.
- PEN Award for Poetry in Translation - $3,000 for book length translations of poetry from any language into English. Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents.
- PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay - $10,000 for an accomplished essay writer. Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents.
- PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction - $10,000 for a "distinguished book of general nonfiction" that illuminates important contemporary issues, published in the U.S. Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents. Biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs are not accepted.
- PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography - $5,000 for "excellence in the art of biography." Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents. Memoirs and autobiographies are not eligible.
- PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award - $10,000 for writing that "exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of physical and biological sciences." Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents.
- PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing - $5,000 for a nonfiction book about sports. Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents.
- Titles must be of biographical, investigative, historical, or analytical nature.
- PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing - $5,000 to a living American writer in celebration of their body of work. Nominations must be made by award judges or PEN members.
- PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for an American Playwright in Mid-Career and a Master American Dramatist - $7,500 and $2,500 to two playwrights, in honor of a mid-career playwright and one in honor of an "outstanding new voice," respectively. Playwrights may not nominate themselves for these awards.
- PEN Translation Prize - $3,000 for book length translation from any language into English. Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents.
- PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants - $2,000 to $4,000 for literary translations from any language into English. Works should be translations-in-progress, as the grant aims to provide support for completion. It is not necessary to have a contract with a publisher in order to apply for one of these grants. Translation of Italian works are also automatically considered for a PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature.
- PEN Open Book Award - $5,000 to book length writings by authors of color. Nominations may only be made by publishers or literary agents.
- PEN/Nora Magid Award - $2,500 to a magazine editor for high literary standards throughout their career. Candidates may only be nominated by professional members of PEN America.
Most of these awards are only awarded to work published in the United States.
PEN/America also administers the unique, and much needed, Writers' Emergency Fund, which provides grants of up to $2,000 for "professional—published or produced—writers in acute, emergency financial crisis." Recipients need not be members of PEN/America.
Final tip: you're highly encouraged to become a member of PEN/America before submitting your work for any of these awards.
- Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director
- Paul Morris, Director of Literary Programs
- Arielle Anema, Literary Awards and Writers' Fund Manager