Congrats to Teju Cole for being named a finalist in what might be PEN’s most prestigious prize yet.
The PEN/Jean Stein Book Award is a brand new, multi-genre literary prize designed to recognize a ground-breaking book-length literary work. It comes with a $75,000 award. This makes it PEN’s richest prize, a position that was once held by PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, which grants a $50,000 cash prize.
His nomination is base on his collection of essays, Known and Strange Things, which was published last year by Random House.
The PEN/Jean Stein Book Award “recognizes a book of extraordinary originality,” a ground-breaking book that challenges established forms, and in so doing, shows it has the “potential for lasting influence.”
The prize is essentially given to a book considered to be a classic in the making—a book that is so game-changing that one can sense that it will forever be read and be relevant.
Even without winning, being considered for the prize is a big deal. Participation is solely based on nomination by a select panel of judges who remain anonymous all through the review process. Whereas in all the other PEN awards, publishers submit work for consideration, with the PEN/Jean Stein prize, only candidates hand-picked by the judges are invited to participate.
It is no surprise that Cole’s collection of essays made the list. Everyone from Times, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, to The New York Times has christened the book an expression of extraordinary talent. The book contains over 50 essays that explores literature, music, European aesthetic forms, politics, and a range of hot-button issues pertinent to our moment. Cole’s signature writing, beloved by readers the world over, is on full display in the rich and diverse collection of writings
We are seriously rooting for Cole. It is not going to be an easy walk to the 75,000 and the acclaim that comes with it. The contenders in the prize are equally brilliant books: Olio by Tyehimba Jess, The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer, and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. All these books are global favorites. Some of you might recall that Whitehead’s book won the the 2016 National Book Award.
Cole’s consideration for this prize makes him the first author in the 54-year existence of PEN America shortlisted for two prizes at the same time. In addition to the PEN/Jean Stein Award, Cole is up for both the $10,000 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay.
The winner of the prize will be announced in an award ceremony scheduled for March 27th in New York City.
This is delightful news. Wishing Cole all the best!
Known and Strange Things
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Post image by Wolf Gang via Flickr.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad received the 2016 Booker Prize. Whitehead’s novel had instead received the 2016 National Book Award.