The 2020 PEN America Literary Awards Winners


Last evening PEN America presented its 2020 PEN America Literary Awards winners live at  The Town Hall in New York City, hosted by Seth Meyers.


Conferring prizes worth upwards of $330,000 to writers and translators, the award honours excellence in fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, biography, children’s literature, translation, and drama.


 The PEN/Jean Stein Book Award ($75,000)


is awarded to the author of a book-length work of any genre, for its originality, merit, and impact, and the breaking of new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form;  signalling strong potential for lasting influence.

JUDGES: Marilyn Chin, Garth Greenwell, Rebecca Makk ai, Michael Schaub, William T. Vollmann

This year, the prize went to




Where Reasons End

Yiyun Li (Random House)

From the judges’ citation:


“Li has written a novel unlike anything we have read before, a book that is beautiful and wise, and almost unbearably moving in its portrait of a woman turning to literature as to a last resort, and finding that it might—barely, savingly—suffice.”

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

is awarded to an author whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future works of fiction.

JUDGES: Aimee Bender, Jamel Brinkley, Samantha Hunt, Randa Jarrar, Elissa Schappell



Last of Her Name

Mimi Lok (Kaya Press) (Hudson / IndieBound)

From the judges’ citation:

“The collection ranges all over our globe while distilling breathtaking, tiny moments of tremendous significance. Whether we are with estranged siblings over a meal to try to talk, or moving back and forth in time to unearth one family’s personal history, or in the closet with an elderly homeless woman listening in on a younger man’s affluent life, we are moving constantly between different strata—place, age, class, view of the world. But with this range and movement comes astonishing intimacy and emotional acuity, a determination in each instance to locate that which is most true and most human.”


PEN Open Book Award ($5,000)

is awarded to an “exceptional book-length work” of any genre by an author of colour, published in the United States in 2019.

JUDGES: Ali Eteraz, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Dawn Lundy Martin, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, Camille Rankine, Héctor Tobar



The Grave on the Wall

Brandon Shimoda (City Lights Books)

From the judges’ citation:

” The Grave on the Wall is a meditation of the act of remembering, containing within its pages the plots of many novels and the haunting imagery of dreams. Brandon Shimoda has penned a beautiful and powerful work of nonfiction, while remaining unafraid to confront the injustice and state-supported acts of violence at the center of his tale.”


PEN Translation Prize ($3,000)


goes to a  book-length translation of prose from any language into English, published in 2019.

JUDGES: Sean Gasper Bye, Jim Hicks, Geoffrey C. Howes, Sara Khalili, Elizabeth Lowe, Jenny McPhee




The Ten Loves of Nishino

Hiromi Kawakami   Europa Editions

Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell

From the judges’ citation:

“Allison Markin Powell has translated best-selling Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami’s novel The Ten Loves of Nishino into sparkling, subtle English. Calling Kawakami’s title character a Lothario would reduce him to precisely the stereotype that the book’s 10 chapters dismantle. Each of the 10 women, even as she accepts Nishino’s fickleness as the price for partaking of his charms, has her own voice, attitude, and agency; Powell renders them all in a nimble, nuanced style that is at once colloquial and crystalline. The translation deftly conveys Kawakami’s gentle but incisive wit, keeping the reader from settling into any easy preconceptions based on nationality or gender.”


Honorable Mention:

If You Cross the River

Geneviève Damas

Translated from French by Jody Gladding  Milkweed Editions


From the Judges:

” … shows remarkable skill and delicacy of touch, resulting in a text that is vivid, elegant, and profound.”



 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000)


For a book-length translation of poetry from any language into English, published in 2019.

JUDGES: Michael Eskin, Forrest Gander, Pierre Joris




The Winter Garden Photograph

Reina María Rodríguez Ugly Duckling Presse

Translated from the Spanish by Kristin Dykstra and Nancy Gates Madsen


From the judges’ citation:

“Through the sensuality of her diction and the abruptive but musical pulse of her syntax, Rodríguez takes up the Wittgensteinian directive to look and see a world that, as the poet puts it, ‘fits into the eyes of the cat.’ The Winter Garden Photograph is as much discursive meditation on memory as it is a riveting embodiment of insight and intuition, and a declaration of love for the great surprising variety of the world. Almost impossibly, the translators negotiate the definitive peculiarities of Rodríguez’s unique phrasing with inspired English versions that neither normalize, dumb-down, nor exoticize the magic of the originals.”


PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000)


For a writer whose collection of individual essays, published in 2019, is an expansion of their exceptional body of work focusing on the essay as an art form.

JUDGES: Jelani Cobb, Daniel Menaker, Judith Thurman




Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape

Deborah Fleming (Kent State University Press)

From the judges’ citation:

“Towards the end of the book, Fleming writes: ‘Like careless children who waste their inheritance, we do not deserve the planet we have been given.’

“Fleming’s Ohio is a template for that planet, and her essays explore the zoology, botany, and anthropology of her home ground with astonishing specificity and Thoreauvian passion. Hummingbirds peck on her window if she is late serving up the nectar. The depradations of fracking and strip mining are described like the torture of body. We meet the Amish in all their admirable, clannish, and cagey variations. The seasons come alive and then slumber. In places, this is an elegy: ‘The earth has made us what we are, sustains us, and will take us back again when we have seen our share of passing seasons.’ Elsewhere, it is joyful and hopeful: ‘We need only look around to see that nature is trying to show us the gate that will lead us back inside.” Fleming’s work holds a key to that gate.’”


PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000)


For a distinguished biography published in 2019.

JUDGES: David W. Blight, Yunte Huang, Miriam Pawel, Rebecca Walker, Shawn Wen




Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America,

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (W. W. Norton & Company)


From the judges’ citation:

 “This is a story of worlds partly vanished, but not entirely, and is one of the deepest dives into the makings and workings of the Lost Cause tradition one will ever find. The work is about the particular world that shaped these three women in Georgia and the larger South of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is an American story of family, women’s spheres and how they were broken, of women’s professionalism, and of women authors both representing traditions they could not overcome and some they also smashed. In its entirety, the book is written with grace and beauty. This is history from deep in the archives and from a trained imagination.”


PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Service Writing Award ($10,000)

For a book that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience.

JUDGES: Diane Ackerman, Rivka Galchen, Priyamvada Natarajan




Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

Frans de Waal  W. W. Norton & Company


From the judges’ citation:

“It’s a great pleasure to award this year’s PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award to pre-eminent primatologist, Frans de Waal, for his keenly observed, insightful, and wonderfully told exploration of the inner lives of animals, which highlights the bounty we share (and don’t share) with other species—both emotionally and psychologically. His lifelong study of primates, in the wild and in zoos, has led him to insights that are scientifically rigorous and not anthropomorphic, yet easy to understand in profoundly human terms. His elegantly written memoir, Mama’s Last Hug, is a book that reminds us that while our homo sapien life may seem very different from that of other animals, we inhabit a kingdom of neighbors.”

PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature ($3,000)


The PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Prize for Paraguayan Literature is meant to assist with the translation of Paraguayan literature from Spanish or Guarani into English. It is open to both established and emerging Paraguayan writers. The award carries a cash stipend of $3,000 for the living author of a major work of Paraguayan literature.

JUDGES: Margaret Carson, Ezra E. Fitz, Susan Smith Nash, Charlotte Whittle




Pieles de Papel


From the judges’ citation:

“In Pieles de Papel, her debut collection of short stories, Liz Haedo captures contemporary Paraguay with cinematic intensity, immersing the reader in an experience that combines Paraguay’s transforming Guaraní culture with its persistent legacies of brutal dictatorship and war. The stories’ structure resembles Paraguayan ñandutí (Guaraní for “spiderweb”), a hand-tatted lace whose symmetrical form incorporates the intentional irregularities of individual self-expression. In artful and incisive prose, the author balances crystalline observation with beguiling ambiguity. As part of a new generation of Paraguayan writers who did not grow up under Stroessner’s dictatorship, Haedo joins a wave of younger Latin American writers who continue to reckon with an unsettling past while exploring the disturbances and cruelties of the present.”

En Español:

“En Pieles de Papel, su colección debut de cuentos cortos, Liz Haedo capta el Paraguay contemporáneo con una intensidad cinematográfica para sumergir al lector en una experiencia que combina la cultura transformadora guaraní del Paraguay con sus legados persistentes de dictadura brutal y guerra. La estructura de los cuentos se parece al ñandutí (telaraña) paraguayo, un encaje hecho a mano cuya forma simétrica incorpora las irregularidades intencionales de la autoexpresión individual. Con un estilo de prosa artístico e incisivo, la autora equilibra su observación cristalina con una ambigüedad embelesadora. Como parte de la nueva generación de autores paraguayos que no creció bajo la dictadura de Stroessner, Haedo se une a una ola de escritores latinoamericanos que sigue enfrentando un pasado desconcertante mientras que explora los disturbios y crueldades del presente.”



For further details of other awards given and due, please see the PEN America website:








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