2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize

Inaugural Award Winner

Susan Nussbaum, for her novel Good Kings Bad Kings

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.

Beginning in 2012, the $25,000 prize will be awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner will also receive a publishing contract with Algonquin Books, which will be the participating publisher for at least the next two awards cycles. The first PEN/Bellwether Prize will be conferred at PEN’s Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2012.

2012 Judges

Rosellen Brown, Margot Livesey, and Kathy Pories

From the Judges' Citation

"Told in alternating perspectives by a vocal cast of characters, Nussbaum’s powerful debut pulls back the curtain to reveal the sometimes brutal and unexpectedly funny life inside the walls of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities. From Yessenia, who dreams of living beyond the walls and of her next boyfriend, to Teddy, who dresses daily in a full suit, to Mia, who guards a terrifying secret, to the data entry clerk Joanne, who worries about each and every kid, Nussbaum crafts a multi-faceted portrait of a way of life hidden from most of us. In this human warehouse on Chicago’s South Side, friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin. And it’s in their alliances that the residents of ILLC ultimately find the strength to resist their mistreatment and fight back. Challenging our definitions of what it means to be disabled, Nussbaum tells this story with an authentic eye in voices that resonate long past the last page. You may never read a novel this striking, baldly funny, and moving again."

Previous Bellwether 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); and Naomi Benaron, 2010, Running the Rift (Algonquin Books)