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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 The $25,000 prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles.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.

PEN is pleased to have distinguished writers and editors Laila Lalami, Kathy Pories, and Brando Skyhorse as the judges for the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize. 

Laila Lalami is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Secret Son, and The Moor's Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Guardian, and The New York Times. She is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside.


Kathy Pories has been a senior editor at Algonquin Books for nineteen years. She acquires literary fiction and narrative nonfiction; was for many years the series editor of New Stories from the South; and has been the editor for the last five Bellwether Prize winners. Authors she has worked with include: Gabrielle Zevin, Rebecca Lee, Bill Roorbach, Lauren Grodstein, Michael Parker, Hillary Jordan, Robert Olmstead, Heidi Durrow, and others. She received her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Brando Skyhorse is the author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, which received the 2011 PEN/Hemingway award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Take This Man: A Memoir. He is also co-editing an anthology on passing which will publish in 2016. He is currently a visiting professor at Wesleyan University.


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

DEADLINE EXTENDED: October 26, 2015

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. If you submit a book for this award, you may not submit it for any additional PEN American Center awards. Please note that the PEN/Faulkner and PEN/Hemmingway Awards are not considered PEN American Center awards.

How to apply

Click here to submit an online applciation through Submittable. Please note that you will be asked to submit the following in the online application form:

• your typed, double-spaced (11 or 12 point font), and paginated manuscript (at least 80,000 words in length) 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). How to define socially engaged fiction 

• 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.