PEN America Literary Awards Open Book Award

The PEN Open Book Award, formerly the Beyond Margins Awards, invites submissions of book-length writings by authors of color, published in the United States during the current calendar year. Works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, poetry, and other works of literary character are strongly preferred. Beginning in the 2021 award cycle, the award will confer a $10,000 prize upon an author of color. U.S. residency or citizenship is not required.

The Open Book Award was created by PEN America’s Open Book Committee, a group committed to racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities.

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 PEN America’s 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: Ali Eteraz, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Dawn Lundy Martin, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, Camille Rankine, Héctor Tobar

Finalists

Build Yourself a Boat, Camonghne Felix (Haymarket Books)
Hudson | IndieBound

Be Recorder, Carmen Giménez Smith (Graywolf Press)
Hudson | IndieBound

Erou, Maya Phillips (Four Way Books)
Hudson | IndieBound

We Cast a Shadow, Maurice Carlos Ruffin (One World)
Hudson | IndieBound

2020 PEN Open Book Award Cropped

Featured Winner: Brandon Shimoda

The Grave on the Wall, Brandon Shimoda (City Lights Books)
Hudson | IndieBound

From the judges’ citation: “Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall is a wondrous feat of memory work, reportage, and writing. In a series of pilgrimages to landscapes on both sides of the Pacific Ocean—deserts, graveyards, deserted villages—Shimoda reconstructs the many journeys of his Japanese-American family. He begins with a search for his grandfather’s roots, and unfolds an intimate story of longing and reinvention. Gradually, a picture emerges of the tenacity and pain endured by a people scattered around the globe by chance, by need, and by their own hopes and ambitions. Written with a poet’s ear for lyricism, The Grave on the Wall is a meditation of the act of remembering, containing within its pages the plots of many novels and the haunting imagery of dreams. Brandon Shimoda has penned a beautiful and powerful work of nonfiction, while remaining unafraid to confront the injustice and state-supported acts of violence at the center of his tale.”

Brandon Shimoda, The Grave On The Wall

History

Previous Winners

(This award was formerly called the PEN Beyond Margins Award.)

2019 Nafissa Thompson-Spires, The Heads of the Colored People (Atria)

2018 Alexis Okeowo, A Moonless, Starless Sky (Hachette)

2017 Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House)

2016 Rick Barot, Chord (Sarabande Books)

2015 Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

2014 Nina McConigley, Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapter Books)
Ruth Ellen Kocher, domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press)

2013 Gina Apostol, Gun Dealers’ Daughter (W.W. Norton)
Kevin Young, The Grey Album (Graywolf Press)

2012 Siddhartha Deb, The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India (Faber & Faber)

2011 Manu Joseph, Serious Man (W. W. Norton & Company)

2010 Sherwin Bitsui, Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press)
Robin D.G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press)
Canyon Sam, Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History (University of Washington Press)

2009 Uwem Akpan, Say You’re One of Them (Back Bay Books)
Juan Felipe Herrera, Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press)
Lily Hoang, Changing (Fairy Tale Review Press)

2008 Chris Abani, Song for Night (Akashic Books)
Amiri Baraka, Tales of the Out and the Gone (Akashic Books)
Frances Hwang, Transparency (Back Bay Books)
Naeem Murr, The Perfect Man (Random House Trade Paperbacks)
Joseph M. Marshall III, The Day the World Ended at Little Big Horn (Penguin Books)

2007 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (Anchor)
Ernest Hardy, Blood Beats, Vol. 1 (Redbone Press)
Harryette Mullen, Recyclopedia (Graywolf Press)
Alberto Ríos, Theater of Night (Copper Canyon Press)

2006 Richard Blanco, Directions to the Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press)
Andrew Lam, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora (Heyday)
Ed-Bok Lee, Real Karaoke People (New Rivers Press)
Caryl Phillips, Dancing in the Dark (Vintage)
Jennifer Tseng, The Man With My Face (The Asian American Writers’ Workshop)

2005 Faith Adiele, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun (W. W. Norton & Company)
Raquel Cepeda, ed., And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years (Faber & Faber)
Lan Samantha Chang, Inheritance (W. W. Norton & Company)
Lolita Hernandez, Autopsy of an Engine, and Other Stories from the Cadillac Plant (Coffee House Press)
Ishle Yi Park, The Temperature of This Water (Kaya/Muae)

2004 Laila Halaby, West of the Jordan: A Novel (Beacon Press)
Suki Kim, The Interpreter (Picador)
Nasdijj, The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping (Ballantine Books)
Willie Perdomo, Smoking Lovely (Rattapallax Press)
April Reynolds, Knee-Deep in Wonder: A Novel (Metropolitan Books)

2002 Meena Alexander, Illiterate Heart (Triquarterly Books)
Luis Francia, Eye of the Fish (Kaya Press)
Joy Harjo, A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Victor LaValle, Slapboxing with Jesus: Stories (Vintage Books)
Nelly Rosario, Song of the Water Saints (Pantheon Books)

Eligibility

  • A candidate’s work must have been published in the United States by a trade publisher between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
  • The PEN Open Book Award is open to authors of color who have not, prior to the book’s publication, received wide media coverage. If you have a question regarding the author’s media coverage, please email [email protected].
  • Works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography/memoir, poetry, and other works of literary character are strongly preferred.
  • U.S. residency or citizenship is not required.
  • Self-published books are not eligible.

Submission Guidelines

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

SUBMIT HERE

  • 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.