Recently PEN America, announced the 2020 winners of their prestigious PEN America Literary Awards honoring authors who have made significant contributions to the literary world. The prizes celebrate books published in both fiction and non-fiction, including sports writing, science writing, essays, poetry, translation, and more.
PEN/JEAN STEIN BOOK AWARD
To the author of a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, and that has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li
Yiyun Li meets life’s deepest sorrows as she imagines a conversation between a mother and child in a timeless world. Composed in the months after she lost a child to suicide, Where Reasons End trespasses into the space between life and death as mother and child talk, free from old images and narratives. Deeply moving, these conversations portray the love and complexity of a relationship. Written with originality, precision, and poise, Where Reasons End is suffused with intimacy, inescapable pain, and fierce love.
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PEN/ROBERT W. BINGHAM PRIZE FOR DEBUT SHORT STORY COLLECTION
To an author whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future works of fiction.
Last of Her Name by Mimi Lok
Mimi Lok’s Last of Her Name is an eye-opening story collection about the intimate, interconnected lives of diasporic women and the histories they are born into. Set in a wide range of time periods and locales, including ’80s UK suburbia, WWII Hong Kong and contemporary urban California, the book features an eclectic cast of outsiders: among them, an elderly housebreaker, wounded lovers and kung-fu fighting teenage girls. Last of Her Name offers a meditation on female desire and resilience, family and the nature of memory.
PEN OPEN BOOK AWARD ($5,000)
To an exceptional book-length work of any genre by an author of color, published in the United States in 2019.
The Grave on the Wall by Brandon Shimoda
Award-winning poet Brandon Shimoda has crafted a lyrical portrait of his paternal grandfather, Midori Shimoda, whose life-child migrant, talented photographer, suspected enemy alien and spy, desert wanderer, American citizen-mirrors the arc of Japanese America in the twentieth century. In a series of pilgrimages, Shimoda records the search to find his grandfather, and unfolds, in the process, a moving elegy on memory and forgetting.
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PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE
For a book-length translation of prose from any language into English, published in 2019.
The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami
Each woman has succumbed, even if only for an hour, to that seductive, imprudent, and furtively feline man who drifted so naturally into their lives. Still clinging to the vivid memory of his warm breath and his indecipherable sentences, ten women tell their stories as they attempt to recreate the image of the unfathomable Nishino.
Like a modern Decameron, this humorous, sensual, and touching novel by one of Japan’s best-selling and most beloved writers is a powerful and embracing portrait of the human comedy in ten voices. Driven by desires that are at once unique and common, the women in this book are modern, familiar to us, and still mysterious. A little like Nishino himself.
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PEN AWARD FOR POETRY IN TRANSLATION ($3,000)
For a book-length translation of poetry from any language into English, published in 2019.
The Winter Garden Photograph by Reina María Rodríguez
A meditation on the power and limitations of images, The Winter Garden Photograph began as an homage to a magazine, The Courier, published by UNESCO. Reina María Rodríguez used the magazine’s photographs of faraway places to spark an investigation of the mental landscapes comprising her own, contemporary Havana. “I think through / the breath in you; I think through / the blood in you”: precisely in striving to inhabit other worlds, she pursues the self.
PEN/DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL AWARD FOR THE ART OF THE ESSAY
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.
Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape by Deborah Fleming
An impassioned call for recognizing and preserving the ecological wonders of the Allegheny Plateau. Yosemite National Park, Louisiana’s bayou, the rocky coasts of New England, the desert Southwest-America’s more dramatic locations are frequently celebrated for their natural beauty, but far less has been written about Ohio’s unique and beautiful environment. Author Deborah Fleming, who has lived in rural Ohio and cared for its land for decades, shares fourteen interrelated essays, blending her own experiences with both scientific and literary research. Resurrection of the Wild discusses both natural and human histories as it focuses on the Allegheny Plateau and hill country in Ohio’s eastern counties. These lyrical meditations delve into life on Fleming’s farm, the impacts of the mining and drilling industries, fox hunting, homesteading families, the lives of agriculturalist Louis Bromfield and John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed), and Ohio’s Amish community. Fleming finds that our very concept of freedom must be redefined to include preservation and respect for the natural world. Ultimately, Resurrection of the Wild becomes a compelling argument for the importance of ecological preservation in Ohio, and Fleming’s perspective will resonate with readers both within and beyond this “forgotten” state’s borders.
PEN/JACQUELINE BOGRAD WELD AWARD FOR BIOGRAPHY ($5,000)
For a distinguished biography published in 2019.
Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall
Descendants of a prominent slaveholding family, Elizabeth, Grace, and Katharine Lumpkin grew up in a culture of white supremacy. But while Elizabeth remained a lifelong believer, her younger sisters chose vastly different lives. Seeking their fortunes in the North, Grace and Katharine reinvented themselves as radical thinkers whose literary works and organizing efforts brought the nation’s attention to issues of region, race, and labor.
In Sisters and Rebels, National Humanities Award-winning historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, who were “estranged and yet forever entangled” by their mutual obsession with the South. Tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past through to the contemporary moment, Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.
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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.
Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves by Frans de Waal
Mama’s Last Hug opens with the dramatic farewell between Mama, a dying fifty-nine-year-old chimpanzee matriarch, and biologist Jan Van Hooff. This heartfelt final meeting of two longtime friends, widely shared as a video, offers a window into how deep and instantly recognizable these bonds can be. So begins Frans de Waal’s whirlwind tour of new ideas and findings about animal emotions, based on his renowned studies of the social and emotional lives of chimpanzees, bonobos, and other primates. De Waal discusses facial expressions, animal sentience and consciousness, Mama’s life and death, the emotional side of human politics, and the illusion of free will. He distinguishes between emotions and feelings, all the while emphasizing the continuity between our species and other species. And he makes the radical proposal that emotions are like organs: we don’t have a single organ that other animals don’t have, and the same is true for our emotions.
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