PEN America presents literary awards to Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Nafissa Thompson-Spires


The nonprofit organization PEN America announced the winners of its annual literary awards Tuesday night, with Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah taking home the prestigious PEN/Jean Stein Award for book of the year for his debut short story collection, “Friday Black.”

Adjei-Brenyah’s competition for the award, which comes with a $75,000 cash prize, included authors Tara Westover, Richard Powers, Ada Limón and José Olivarez.

“In writing this book, I wanted these stories to be out in the world even if my name wasn’t associated with them,” Adjei-Brenyah said, accepting the award. “Maybe someone would feel seen, push a conversation that needed to happen. … If we can imagine a world much worse than ours, we can collectively imagine one that is much better.”


“Friday Black” was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for Best First Book. Last week, Universal Pictures announced that it’s planning to adapt the title story of the book into a film, with Adjei-Brenyah writing and executive-producing the movie.

The PEN Open Book Award, presented each year to an outstanding book by an author of color, went to Nafissa Thompson-Spires for her debut short story collection “Heads of the Colored People.” The book was also a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and appeared on the longlist for the National Book Award for fiction.

Will Mackin won the PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection for his “Bring Out the Dog,” which the judges called “the debut of a visionary and a virtuoso.” The PEN Translation Prize was awarded to Martin Aitken for his translation of Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik’s “Love.”

Los Angeles author Michelle Tea took home the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for “Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms,” which the judges said was “rendered with the fast, energetic and angry strokes of punk.”

“It’s always validating when my work gets recognized at a level like this,” Tea said, accepting the award. “Actually, this has never happened.”


Imani Perry won the PEN/Bograd Weld Award for Biography for “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry.” The judges praised the book for exploring “the complexities and entanglements that made Hansberry’s life story as dramatic and serpentine as one of her plays.”

PEN America presented several special awards at the ceremony, including the inaugural PEN/Mike Nichols Award for Performance Writing, which was given to playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan.

Actor Matthew Broderick presented the award to Lonergan, saying, “I always saw Mike as a teacher, and I find myself feeling the same way about Kenny. It’s not every day you get to present an award named for a dear friend, to a best friend.”

Sandra Cisneros accepted the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. The author of “The House on Mango Street” dedicated the award to “writers, poets, editors, truth tellers who offer light in the time of darkness; librarians and booksellers, patron saints in the age of distraction; the sixth-grade teacher whose name I cannot remember, whose kindness I will not forget.”


A full list of the winners of the PEN America awards is available at the organization’s website.