The PEN American Center has announced the winners of the 2012 PEN Literary Awards, and they’re a good mixed bag. It’s nice to see an organization that uses its award process as an umbrella to celebrate a few different kinds of noteworthiness, and shines a spotlight on some great small presses in the process. Considering the apparent difficulties competition panels seem to be having lately coming up with single-category winners, PEN is definitely to be commended for coordinating all this recognition.
PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, founded by Barbara Kingsolver, was awarded in partnership with PEN for the first time this year, to Susan Nussbaum for her manuscript Good Kings Bad Kings. Nussbaum will receive $25,000 and a publishing contract with Algonquin Books, which is a pretty neat combination. (PEN awards don’t come with a sticker, do they? Because that would be an awfully big one.)
PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for a debut work of fiction went to Vanessa Veselka for Zazen—not only do I like this as a choice but I hope it pushes a little extra attention in the direction of Richard Nash’s adventurous Red Lemonade Press. The runner-up, Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press) is also a worthy pick.
PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction went to E.L. Doctorow, another good call. It’s nice to see a “lifetime” achievement award go to someone whose career has been strong all the way through, and I think Doctorow qualifies on that count ably.
PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay went, posthumously, to Christopher Hitchens for Arguably; fair enough, and that not even arguably.
And there are a host of other categories—for a full list and more detailed information about the individual categories, check out PEN’s website. The award ceremony will be held October 23 in New York, at CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium.