In a warm and inviting affair at the New School in Manhattan on April 1, PEN America bestowed 18 awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes totaling nearly $200,000 at its annual PEN Literary Awards Ceremony. PEN’s Literary Award Committee chair, Monique Troung, called this year’s awards cycle “record-breaking,” with more than 1,200 total submissions received across all categories. The evening was hosted by Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang.
For the first time, the ceremony included the announcement of five awards live, including the PEN Open Book Award for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color and the PEN/FUSION Emerging Writers Prize. For the former, Guggenheim fellow Rick Barot took home the award for his poetry collection Chord. San Diego’s Jean Guerrero received the PEN/FUSION Prize for “Crux,” an unpublished work of nonfiction about her struggles with her Mexican-American father’s mental illness.
Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay won the 2016 Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecturer. Gay will speak on the final evening of the PEN World Voices Festival, which will be held in New York from April 25 to May 1. PEN executive director Suzanne Nossel also announced a new prize honoring the short story, which will be co-sponsored by Catapult.
In fiction, Toni Morrison was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Pantheon Books editor and Morrison protégé Erroll McDonald accepted the award on her behalf. Mia Alvar received the 2016 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for In the Country (Alfred A. Knopf), a collection of nine short stories focusing on the past traumas and uncertain futures of women and men of the Filipino diaspora, while Lisa Ko took home the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for her novel The Leavers, which is forthcoming from Algonquin Books.
In nonfiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates added the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay to a burgeoning collection of accolades for Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau), his epistolary essay on race in America. Coates’s father, Paul, accepted the award on his behalf. Laura Redniss was presented with the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for her graphic exploration of the weather in Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future (Random House), and the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography went to Nancy Princenthal for Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art (Thames & Hudson).
John Schulian received the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing, and Scott Ellsworth netted the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing for The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph (Little, Brown).
In drama, the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Awards were given to Lynn Nottage for, Young Jean Lee, and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, honoring their respective statuses as master American dramatist, American playwright in mid-career, and emerging American playwright.
Ed Roberson received the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, honoring his career as a whole, while Sawako Nakayasu won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books), a translation of the life works of an avant-garde Japanese poet. The PEN Translation Prize, awarded for a book-length translation of prose into English, went to Katrina Dodson for her translation of Clarice Lispector's The Complete Stories (New Directions) from the Portuguese.
The PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, awarded to the author of a work of children’s or YA fiction to complete a book-length work-in-progress, went to Ash Parsons for "A Chemical Distance,” which is now available for publication. The PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature, awarded to a living author of a major work of Paraguayan literature not yet translated into English, was awarded to Nathalia María Echauri Castagnino for Doce Lunas Llenas: Poesias sobre la Divina Energia Femenina.
The recipients of the remaining translation awards, the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants, will be announced later this spring.