The 2019 PEN American Literary Awards Celebrated Sandra Cisneros, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah & More
On Tuesday night, PEN America announced the recipients of the 2019 PEN American Literary Awards at a ceremony in New York City. Winners included debut author Nafissa Thompson-Spires, celebrated essayist Michelle Tea, and beloved novelist, poet, and essayist Sandra Cisneros, who received the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.
For more than half a century, the PEN American Literary Awards have been bestowed upon those whom the organization believes to be the greatest voices in literature. Each year, PEN America gives out 20 distinct awards to writers and translators in fiction, drama, sports, science writing, and more.
Maria Hinojosa gave out the first award of the night to Sandra Cisneros, the celebrated author of The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories; she was selected as the winner by judges Alexander Chee, Edwidge Danticat, and Valeria Luiselli, who wrote: "It’s hard to imagine navigating our world today without her stories and her voice guiding us toward much needed reclamation and endurance."
In addition to the 10 authors listed below, distinguished award recipients included Academy Award-winning director, playwright, and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan, who won the inaugural PEN/Mike Nichols Award for Performance Writing; Jackie "Mac" Macmullan, who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing; Larissa FastHorse, who was given the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater; Apogee's literary journal's Alexandra Watson, who won the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Editing; and early career poet Jonah Mixon-Webster, who took home the PEN/Osterweil Award for Poetry.
"The daring works we celebrate today are a testament to the freedom we have to write them," PEN America President and author Jennifer Egan said in the closing ceremony.
Here are 10 books that won big last night — be sure to add them all to your reading list for 2019:
PEN/Jean Stein Book Award: 'Friday Black' by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree and debut author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah can add another award to his list of accolades: the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. "At turns horrifying and funny, tender and savage, these stories stick with you, probing the American psyche and persistently asking more of us," judges Jennifer Clement, Matthew Desmond, Natalie Diaz, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Charles Yu said of Friday Black.
PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection: 'Bring Out The Dog' by Will Mackin
Will Mackin was honored with the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection for his powerful book Bring Out the Dog, which draws from his experience as a member of a special operations task force in Iraq and Afghanistan. Judges Chris Abani, Frances Hwang, and Gary Lutz called it "the debut of a visionary and a virtuoso."
PEN Open Book Award: 'Heads Of The Colored People' by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Heads of Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, an exceptional short story collection about black identity and the so-called "post-racial" world, won the PEN Open Book Award. "A book this smart, funny, sly, charming, and devastating is a gift," said judges Hanif Abdurraqib, Richie Narvaez, Kevin Nguyen, Elissa Washuta, Sunil Yapa, and Cristina Arreola, who is the Senior Books Editor at Bustle.
PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography: 'Looking For Lorraine' by Imani Perry
Imani Perry won the PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography for her book about the extraordinary life of playwright and writer Lorraine Hansberry, whose play A Raisin in the Sun was the first written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. Judges Nell Irvin Painter, Sam Stephenson, and Rachel Syme praised Looking for Lorraine's author for "considering Hansberry in all of her prismatic multiplicities."
PEN/Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay: 'Against Memoir' by Michelle Tea
Celebrated author, poet, and essayist Michelle Tea won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for her latest book, Against Memoir, a darkly funny and searingly honest collection about the sometimes brutal relationship between art and life. Judges Garrard Conley, Paul Reyes, and Aisha Sabatini Sloan called Tea "one of those rare writers whose style is immediately recognizable yet inimitable, whose voice is as singularly irresistible as the punk culture that shaped her."
PEN Translation Prize: 'Love' by Hanne Ørstavik, translated Martin Aitken
Martin Aitken was honored with the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of Hanne Ørstavik’s Norwegian novel Love, a gripping story about a mother, her son, and the dangerous space growing between them. Judges Ezra Fitz, Barbara Harshav, Vincent Kling, Marian Schwartz, and Ron Slate praised it as "an extraordinary translation of an uncannily singular novel, one which the judges will be savoring for many years to come."
PEN Award for Poetry and Translation: 'A Certain Plume' by Henri Michaux, translated by Richard Sieburth
There were many submissions for the PEN Award for Poetry and Translation, but Richard Sieburth's translation of Henri Michaux's French collection A Certain Plume "stood out for its careful handling of tone and colloquial register in the deft navigation of the uncanny," according to prize judges Sinan Antoon, Ewa Chrusciel, Peter Filkins, and Katrine Øgaard Jensen.
PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award: 'In A Day's Work' by Bernice Yeung
In her now PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award-winning nonfiction book In a Day's Work, acclaimed journalist Bernice Yeung investigates sexual assault against what she calls the "invisible workers," women farmworkers, domestic workers, and janitorial workers whose vulnerability and financially insecurity is preyed upon by employers. Judges Nana-Ama Danquah, McKenzie Funk, Syreeta McFadden, Christina Sharpe, and Linda Villarosa say it is "a book that is utterly necessary: sobering in the details and scope but hopeful in all of the ways that immigrant women come together to organize and collectively enact refusal."
PEN/O.O Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing: 'Eager' by Ben Goldfarb
The 2019 PEN/O.O Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing was awarded to environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb, whose acclaimed book Eager explores the largely unknown history of beavers and their important impact on North America's landscape. Judges Arianne Shahvisi, Jeff VanderMeer, and Christie Wilcox called the book "a charming, surprising, and compelling lesson in the intricacies of ecosystems, and the limits of human hubris."
PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing: 'The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey' by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Paris Review sports columnist Rowan Ricardo Phillips won the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing for his nonfiction book about tennis. The Circuit chronicles the 2017 tennis season from the Australian Open to the US Open, but the judges — Chris Bachelder, Rafi Kohan, and Carvell Wallace — celebrated it as a "meditation on all things gorgeous and grave about the fragile human spirit and all it seeks to—and fails—to accomplish."