Poets & Writers

Contests With Vision

EACH year the literary establishment awards hundreds of prizes—and millions of dollars—to writers. These contests celebrate literature, certainly, but more important, they help shape the next generation of books: The financial support of grants and awards can keep writers afloat long enough to start their next books. And while many awards are given for the best book or the most innovative poem, story, or essay, only a few are specifically dedicated to support work that engages with societal and political issues—literature that offers a vision of a more just and equitable world, or agitates our acceptance of the status quo, or reveals the impact of social forces on our language and lives. In recent months, the volume has been dialed up on the conversation about the political importance of literature; now is the perfect time to listen a little more closely to those who have been backing socially engaged literature for years. So we asked representatives from five organizations that sponsor major awards given for work with social vision to write about each prize: its history, why it was started, and why the literature it champions matters.

DANA ISOKAWA is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction

A biennial prize of $25,000 and a publishing contract with Algonquin Books for an unpublished novel that “addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.” Writers who have at least four journal publications and have not published a book that has sold more than ten thousand copies are eligible.

Sponsors: PEN America, Barbara Kingsolver

Recent Winners: Lisa Ko for The Leavers (2016), Ron Childress for And West Is West (2014), Susan Nussbaum for Good Kings Bad Kings (2012)

Laila Lalami, Kathy Pories, and Brando Skyhorse (2016); Terry

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