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PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction ($25,000)

The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The $25,000 prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner also receives a publishing contract with Algonquin Books.

Past Winners: Donna Gershten in 2000 for Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth (HarperCollins); Gayle Brandeis, 2002,The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins); Marjorie Kowalski Cole, 2004, Correcting the Landscape (HarperCollins); Hillary Jordan, 2006, Mudbound (Algonquin Books); Heidi W. Durrow, 2008, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books); Naomi Benaron, 2010, Running the Rift (Algonquin Books); Susan Nussbaum, 2012, Good Kings Bad Kings (Algonquin Books); Ron Childress, 2014, And West is West (Forthcoming from Algonquin Books)

Eligibility and Submissions for the 2016 Awards


This award will be offered in again during PEN's 2016 Awards cycle. Please check back in mid-2015 for updated information.

Who is eligible

The PEN/Bellwether Prize is awarded to an unpublished novel manuscript by a writer who has had at least four publications (including short stories or essays), and, if the writer has published a book, the book has not sold more than 10,000 copies. The submission must be an original, previously unpublished novel, written by one person, in English, at least 80,000 words in length. Eligible authors must be U.S. citizens. The winning manuscript will be chosen by a panel of three judges: one editor representing the participating publisher, Algonquin, and two distinguished literary authors selected by PEN’s Literary Awards Committee in consultation with Barbara Kingsolver.

Manuscripts are judged blind, to avoid any form of bias; the identity of the author of the winning manuscript (and all other submissions) is not known by any judge until after the decision is finalized. Only PEN awards administrators are able to view the submitter's identity.

Each applicant's application must include their resume or CV where they will be able to detail their publication history for PEN staff to review for eligibility. Your submission may not be under consideration by any publisher during the judging period. You will be notified immediately if your manuscript is no longer under consideration  at which time you will should feel free to submit the work elsewhere for consideration.

How to apply

PEN will only be accepting electronic submissions through Submittable. Here, you will be asked to submit your name, contact information, and application. Applications must include the following:

• your typed, double-spaced (11 or 12 point font), and paginated manuscript with title appearing on every page (your name should not appear anywhere on the pages to ensure anonymity for the judging process)

• a one-page synopsis of the work's plot which also explains how it addresses a social issue (please do not include your name on this page)

• résumé or curriculum vitae (five pages maximum)

• a $25 submission fee. Submittable will provide instructions for paying through their website or through PayPal. PEN will not be accepting checks, money orders, nor cash as a means of payment. Early application is strongly advised.