Literary Awards and Festival

The PEN Literary Award for Journalism celebrates

Truth and Accuracy.

Submit your investigative reporting, longform essays,
and local spotlight stories published in 2017.


●Open to journalists living west of the Mississippi
●Journalists or publishers may submit work
●Printed and online articles are eligible


"...telling true stories and helping other people understand the lives of different disenfranchised people in this country is the power of journalism."
—Eli Saslow, 2017 PEN Center USA Literary Award Winner for Journalism

Other past winners include T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, Ben Ehrenreich, Karen Olsson, Daniel Alarcón, Erin Aubrey Kaplan, Ed Leibowitz, Ann Louise Bardach.

Publishers of winning articles include The Washington Post, ProPublica and The Marshall Project, Los Angeles Times, The California Sunday Magazine, Texas Monthly, Harper’s, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register

Submission forms and complete eligibility guidelines HERE.


The PEN Center USA Literary Awards competition is the nation's most prestigious open submissions awards program accepting work published or produced by writers living west of the Mississippi River. Entries in eleven categories—fiction, creative nonfiction (includes memoirs), research nonfiction (includes biographies), poetry, children’s/young adult, graphic literature, translation, journalism (print and online), drama, screenplay, and teleplay—are reviewed and judged by panels of distinguished writers, critics, and editors. Winners are announced in the late summer. Each winner receives a $1,000 cash prize, a one-year membership to PEN Center USA, and two tickets to the Literary Awards Festival in the fall.

PEN Center USA Literary Awards winners and honorees include:

Daniel Alarcón
Woody Allen
Isabel Allende
Rudolfo Anaya
Paul Thomas Anderson
Judd Apatow
T.C. Boyle
Ray Bradbury
Octavia Butler
Victoria Chang
Sandra Cisneros
George Clooney
Daniel Clowes
Francis Ford Coppola
Cameron Crowe
Meghan Daum
Joan Didion
Lena Dunham
Dave Eggers
Ben Ehrenreich
Morgan Entrekin
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Carrie Fisher
Matt Fraction
Roxane Gay
Matt Groening
Joy Harjo
Vaclav Havel
Noah Hawley
Gilbert Hernandez
Charlie Kaufman
Barbara Kingsolver
Maxine Hong Kingston
Bill Konigsberg
Norman Lear
Ursula K. Le Guin
Elmore Leonard
Jill Leovy
Bill Maher
T. Christian Miller
Graham Moore
Walter Mosley
Jeff Nichols
Joyce Carol Oates
Carl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Mimi Pond
Claudia Rankine
Joe Sacco
James Salter
Dan Savage
Neil Simon
Gloria Steinem
Oliver Stone
Danny Strong
Gus Van Sant
Gore Vidal
Alice Walker
Billy Wilder
G. Willow Wilson


  • The PEN Center USA Literary Awards is one of the only major literary awards programs that accepts submissions directly from authors.
  • We celebrate the best writing west of the Mississippi. We honor books that have previously been unrecognized.
  • Your work is read by judges who are renowned writers and editors.
  • Winners are invited to a private pre-awards cocktail hour where they can network with our ever-expanding community of fellow award winners, judges, and recipients of Lifetime Achievement and Freedom to Write Awards.
  • Publishers have the opportunity to place their winner’s books into the hands of more than 500 prominent writers, celebrities, and members of the press who receive gift bags at LitFest.
  • Winners receive national exposure in major media outlets including the Los Angeles TImes, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Associated Press, LitHub.
  • Winners receive press and exposure for their winning titles for future work, and events via our social media network and press releases.
  • PEN Center USA works with booksellers west of the Mississippi to display and stock winners’ books.
  • Receive an award from an organization that champions writers and the first amendment.

PEN Center USA is grateful for the generous support of individuals and institutions for their gifts during the period of July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017 which includes PEN Center USA members and Board of Directors, AltaMed Health Services Corporation, Greenberg Glusker LLP, Hulu, Latham & Watkins, Los Angeles Review of Books, Ovation TV, Rosenthal Family Foundation, Showtime and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment

Frequently Asked Questions

Submitting to the Literary Awards FAQ

PEN Center USA region

Who is eligible to submit work to the Literary Awards?
Writers and translators whose primary residence while writing their entries was in the United States, west of the Mississippi River (including all of Minnesota and Louisiana), are eligible. For works written by two or more persons, the majority of the writers must reside west of the Mississippi River. Work may be submitted by writers, or by their publishers, agents, or publicists.

Are only members of PEN Center USA and/or U.S citizens eligible to enter the Literary Awards?
No. Any writer who meets the residency requirements and the requirements of the submission category is eligible to enter.

In which categories are the Literary Awards given?
Awards are given for fiction, creative nonfiction (includes memoirs), research nonfiction (includes biographies), poetry, young adult, graphic literature, translation, journalism, drama, screenplay, and teleplay.

When are the submissions to the Literary Awards accepted?
Each year, the entry period runs from the date the annual call for submissions opens in the summer up to the posted deadlines for that submission period.

When are the Literary Awards winners announced?
The winners are announced each fall.

How are the winners chosen?
Entries are read and evaluated by a distinguished panel of judges. The judges select one winner and up to three finalists for each category.

If two people coauthored a book, and one of them lives west of the Mississippi River while the other lives east, is their book eligible?
Yes. However, if a book is coauthored by three people, two of the three must reside west of the Mississippi River in the United States.

Are self-published, print-on-demand, or e-books eligible for submission?
No. Only professionally published books (i.e., when a writer receives payment from a recognized publisher) are considered eligible. Books published with/by companies such as America Star, AuthorHouse, Author Solutions, Author’s Choice, Book Surge, CreateSpace, iUniverse,, Xlibris, etc., are considered print-on-demand and are ineligible. At this time, e-books are also ineligible.

Are anthologies eligible?
No. Anthologies, literary journals, and “Best Of” collections are not eligible.

Is there a limit to how many titles an individual writer or publisher may submit per year?
No. Provided each submission was published in the calendar year for which PEN Center USA is accepting submissions and that all other criteria, including writers’ residency requirements, are met, there is no limit to how many titles an individual writer or publisher may submit.

If a play/screenplay/teleplay was written over a year ago but it was not produced/released/aired until this year, is it eligible?
Yes. The only time frame eligibility requirement for performance categories (i.e., drama, screenplay, and teleplay) is that the submission was originally performed or produced in the calendar year for which PEN Center USA is soliciting. Staged readings are not eligible. Scripts under consideration are not eligible.

What are the requirements specific to the journalism category?
Print journalism publications must have been published at least three times during the calendar year for which PEN Center USA is accepting submissions and must still be in existence at the end of that year. 

Digital journalism websites must have been launched before June 30th of the calendar year for which PEN Center USA is accepting submissions, and must be able to show that they are still active at the end of that year.

Print content must be original. Excerpts serialized from fiction and nonfiction books, op-ed pieces, and blogs are not eligible.

Will my submission(s) be returned?
No. PEN Center USA is unable to return submissions.