PEN America Literary Awards PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

The PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award celebrates writing that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience. The winner receives a cash award of $10,000.

The PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award was founded by scientist and author Dr. Edward O. Wilson, activist and actor Harrison Ford, and the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The award is also supported by Jim and Cathy Stone. The inaugural award was conferred in 2011. Examples of published works that exemplify the quality of writing the award is designed to acknowledge include Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring (1962), Dr. James Watson’s The Double Helix (1969), Lewis Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell (1978), and Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979).

All winners and finalists for this award are eligible to receive PEN America’s official winner or finalist seal. If you are a publisher of a shortlisted or winning book for this award and are interested in obtaining the PEN America award seal, please write to [email protected]. For more information, please visit our FAQ page.

Submissions for the 2021 cycle will be open June 15–August 15, 2020. Submit here.

2020 Cycle

Honoring books published in 2019.

JUDGES: Diane Ackerman, Rivka Galchen, Priyamvada Natarajan


Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition, Patricia S. Churchland (W. W. Norton & Company)

On the Backs of Tortoises: Darwin, the Galapagos, and the Fate of an Evolutionary Eden, Elizabeth Hennessy (Yale University Press)
Hudson | IndieBound 

The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, Dahr Jamail (New Press)

Losing Earth: A Recent History, Nathaniel Rich (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

2020 PEN E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award Finalists

Featured Winner: Frans de Waal

Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves, Frans de Waal (W. W. Norton & Company)
Hudson | IndieBound

From the judges’ citation: “It’s a great pleasure to award this year’s PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award to preeminent 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.”

Frans de Waal, Mama’s Last Hug


  • Eligible titles must have been published between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
  • Authors of the work must be permanent U.S. residents or American citizens.
  • If you submit a book for this award, you may not submit it for any additional PEN America Literary Award, with the exception of the PEN Open Book Award. Please note that the PEN/Faulkner Award is not considered a PEN America Literary Award.
  • Self-published books and anthologies are ineligible for this prize.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions for the 2021 awards will be accepted from June 15, 2020 through August 15, 2020.


  • PEN America will only accept submissions from publishers or literary agents. Authors may not submit their own book for this award.
  • On the submissions page, please select the award you are submitting to.
  • Please submit verified email addresses on the submission form. Your order cannot be processed without an email address, and this information will be used to later contact you regarding your submission.
  • Upload a PDF file of the galley or final manuscript on the book submissions page. Due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, 2021 book award submissions will only be read digitally as PDF files. Each book file will be kept confidentially between the PEN America Literary Awards team and the applicable Awards judges. Please note that if a book is longlisted, PEN America may request a physical copy be sent to the judging panel.
  • Upload a high-resolution book jacket photo. This may be used later if the book is longlisted, a finalist, or a winner.
  • Please download the declaration of eligibility. Complete all fields and have the editor or publisher sign to confirm the book’s eligibility. Please upload this document along with the rest of your application on the submissions page.
  • Each submission is $85*. Please note that due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, we are asking that all submissions payments be made via credit card. Submission fees are not refundable.
  • Once the submitted book is received and reviewed for eligibility by PEN America, it will be passed along to the judges. Please add [email protected] to your address book, as it will be the main point of contact from PEN America.

*Submission fees may be waived for publishers whose annual net sales are less than $2 million. In order to have your dues waived, please have a company official write a letter on company letterhead stating that your press’s annual net sales are less than $2 million. Please send this letter as an attachment (.doc or .pdf) to [email protected]. Once received, you will be provided with a coupon code to use at checkout in order to have your submission fees waived. One fee waiver may be used for all 2021 PEN America Awards; you do not need to submit a separate fee waiver for each award.