PEN Literary Award Winners Announced

Lisa Cochran
May 09, 2024

The PEN literary awards have been announced and writing alumnus Javier Fuentes ’14 has received the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut novel for his book, Countries of Origin (Pantheon, 2023). 

On April 23, 2024, PEN America canceled its awards ceremony due to the withdrawal of over half the books on the longlist. Authors chose to withdrawn their books from the running in protest over PEN America’s lack of response to the war in Gaza. In a statement, PEN America announced that judges had selected the five finalists and winning titles for each award before the mass withdrawals. In the event that the winning title had not been withdrawn, the award would still be granted. 

In the case of award money that could not be conferred because recipients had withdrawn, the funds will be disseminated according to the specifications of each award contract and the wishes of award underwriters. For example, the $75,000 prize accompanying the PEN/Stein award, declined by all ten nominees, will be donated to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund at the behest of the Literary Estate of Jean Stein, a staunch advocate for Palestinian sovereignty.

Original: April 26, 2024

PEN America has released the 2024 PEN literary awards longlist, which includes work by five School of the Arts alumni. The organization annually bestows over $350,000 in cash prizes to writers and translators. 

“Our Awards are juried by panels of esteemed, award-winning authors, editors, translators, and critics,” a statement by PEN America reads. “These authors are committed to recognizing their contemporaries, from promising debut writers to those who have had a continuous, lasting impact on the literary landscape.”

Adjunct Assistant Professor and Writing alumna Catherine Lacey ’10 was nominated for the PEN/Jean Stein book award, granted to book-length works of any genre based on their impact, merit, and originality. The prize promises a $75,000 award and will be judged this year by Álvaro Enrigue, Lupita Aquino, Michael Schaub, and Tess Taylor. 

Lacey has been nominated for her genre-bending work, Biography of X (FSG, 2022), which follows the narrator, CM, as she tries to piece together a biography of her late widow, the esteemed yet elusive X. 

Writing alumni Jinwoo Chong ’21 and Javier Fuentes ’14 were nominated for the PEN/Hemingway award for debut novel, conferred to a debut novel of “exceptional literary merit.” The $10,000 prize will be judged by Cleyvis Natera, Charlie Vázquez, and Elizabeth Crane this year. 

Chong has been nominated for his novel, Flux (Melville House, 2023), a melange of speculative fiction and crime noir following the timelines of three characters. 

Fuentes was nominated for his book, Countries of Origin (Pantheon Books, 2023), the story of an undocumented New York pastry chef who is forced to return to Spain to avoid deportation and his subsequent love affair with a young, rich man he meets on the flight back. 

Mary Jo Bang ’98 has been nominated for the PEN/Voelcker Award for poetry collection. The recipient will be awarded $5,000. This year’s judges are Diane Seuss, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Rigoberto González, Deborah Fleming, and Writing Professor Timothy Donnelly ’98

Bang has been nominated for her collection, A Film In Which I Play Everyone (Graywolf Press, 2023), a collection in which the speaker is simultaneously herself and everyone she’s ever met. 

Theatre alumna Virlana Tkacz ’83 has been nominated for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. This prize bestows $3,000 on recipients and will be judged by Dorothy Bonett, Matthias Göritz, and Nancy Naomi Carlson.

Tkacz has been nominated for her co-translation, with Wanda Phipps, of How Fire Descends by Serhiy Zhadan (Yale University Press, 2023) from the original Ukrainian. This collection recounts the Ukrainian struggle against Russian oppression, honoring both living and dead. 

As of April 23, 2024, PEN America has canceled its awards ceremony due to the withdrawal of over half of this year’s nominees––a list which includes Lacey, who is among nine out of ten nominees who have declined the Jean Stein book award––citing PEN America’s lack of response to the war in Gaza. 

Jean Stein, the writer after whom the Jean Stein Award was named and whose foundation supplies the hefty $75,000 award, was a “passionate advocate for Palestinian rights.” The funding agency has requested that PEN donate the unawarded $75,000 to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund

Many of those who withdrew or declined awards described the organization’s “failure to protect” Palestinian writers in Gaza. PEN’s stance has been widely disparaged by members of the literary community, who have drafted an open letter calling for the resignation of the organization’s CEO, Suzanne Nossel as well as the president, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and the entire executive committee. 

“We respect their decision and we will celebrate these writers in other ways,” said Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, a PEN literary programming supervisor.