Hemingway / PEN Award

NoViolet Bulawayo wins 2014 Hemingway/PEN Award

By Jan Gardner Globe Correspondent March 15, 2014

NoViolet Bulawayo
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP Photo

NoViolet Bulawayo, born in Zimbabwe and now a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, is this year’s winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for We Need New Names (Little, Brown). The novel follows a 10-year-old girl who leaves her shantytown in Zimbabwe to live with an aunt in Detroit.
Finalists for the award, which honors the best debut book of fiction by an American author, are The Residue Years (Bloomsbury), an autobiographical novel by Mitchell S. Jackson, who is black and grew up in Portland, Ore., and The Old Priest (University of Pittsburgh), a story collection by Anthony Wallace, who teaches writing at Boston University. For additional details see The Boston Globe article.

Announcing the 2014 Hemingway/PEN Award for Debut Fiction


An award-winning novel of immigration points to the vibrancy of American literature

April 12, 2014
The Kansas City Star

BOSTON — Sales at American book stores rose a measly 1 percent in 2013, according to trade accounts. It remains unclear whether that sluggishness — sales of ebooks have also tapered off — truly represents a further chipping away of the importance of books in our culture.

In any case, people continue to wonder with reason about the state and influence of literature in our lives.

Well, don’t count it out just yet.

Based on what I saw and heard at a Boston literary event last weekend, the state of American literature remains vibrant.

NoViolet Bulawayo
                                STEVE PAUL | THE KANSAS CITY STAR
NoViolet Bulawayo, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, spoke April 6 at the JFK Library and Museum.

Consider the self-made journey of NoViolet Bulawayo. A native of Zimbabwe, she emigrated to the United States, joining an aunt in Michigan, earned three college degrees — she’d intended to go to law school but “fortunately or unfortunately,” she said, “studied writing instead” — and now serves as a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Bulawayo on Sunday received the PEN/Hemingway Award, which is given to an American author for a first published work of fiction. Bulawayo, in her early 30s, follows a long and multicultural list of award winners who are now notable writers, including Marilynne Robinson, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ben Fountain, Yi-yun Li and Teju Cole. (Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society, which co-sponsors the award with the PEN New England writers’ organization and the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, site of the Sunday event.)

Bulawayo’s novel, “We Need New Names,” is an extraordinarily vivid tale of a 10-year-old Zimbabwean girl experiencing the years of chaos a decade or so ago under President Robert Mugabe’s regime — Bulawayo’s own girlhood took place in relatively calmer years following the nation’s independence in the 1980s. The girl, Darling, and her friends steal guavas to satisfy their hunger and eventually watch homes being bulldozed during a brutal campaign against the poor and government opponents.

Before she departs, she visits an elder who conducts a tobacco ritual and declares, “The ancestors are your angels, they will bear you to America.”

The next brilliant paragraph shows off Darling’s narrative voice:

Finally he tied a bone attached to a rainbow-colored string around my waist and said, This is your weapon, it will fight off all evil in that America, never ever take it off, you hear? But then when I got to America the airport dog barked and barked and sniffed me, and the woman in the uniform took me aside and waved the stick around me and the stick made a nting-nting sound and the woman said, Are you carrying any weapons? and I nodded and showed my weapon from Vodloza, and Aunt Fostalina said, What is this crap? and she took it off and threw it in a bin. Now I have no weapon to fight evil with in America.

Bulawayo’s story of immigration is a sober yet often humorous document of America’s promise, America’s realities and the shifting idea of home in a transplant’s consciousness.
In that way it burnishes the notion that American literature, like America itself, is a melting pot, enriched as it ever has been by the voices of immigrants.

“American literature,” said Scott Turow, one of three judges who chose Bulawayo’s novel, “whatever the reports of its demise, is really in pretty good shape.”

In a keynote talk, the journalist turned novelist Geraldine Brooks (“Caleb’s Crossing,” “March”), spoke about the implausible truths that often inspire writers and how she has drawn from her own experience, like Hemingway, as a foreign correspondent and witness to war.

A writer toils in a quiet space and never really knows what difference he or she makes in the world.

All she can do is make the effort, Brooks said, “to make the suffering I’ve experienced count for something.”

That indeed is the work of literature.


Kennedy Library Forums
PEN Hemingway Awards
April 6, 2014 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Geraldine_BrooksGeraldine Brooks by Randi Baird

Patrick Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s son, will present the 2014 PEN Hemingway Award for best first published work of fiction by an American author to NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks (March, People of the Book, Caleb’s Crossing) is the keynote speaker. The ceremony also includes the presentation of the PEN New England Awards, honoring best works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by New England authors. This year’s honors go to News From Heaven by Jennifer Haigh, What Matters Most by Douglas Bauer, and Frost in the Low Areas by Karen Scolfield. The Kennedy Library is the major repository of Ernest Hemingway’s works. Registration to attend is recommended or sign up for the webcast. See details at www.jfklibrary.org/Events-and-Awards/Forums.aspx.

Hemingway / PEN Award – 2013

One of the major missions of the Hemingway Foundation is our co-sponsorship of the PEN/Hemingway Award, a national literary honor given to an author of a first book of fiction. The Foundation financially supports the effort of PEN New England, a branch of the writers’ organization (the acronym stands for poets, playwrights, essayists, novelists). Our partnership with PEN New England goes back more than two decades. Mary Hemingway established the award in 1976, and in the early 1990s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis prompted a move of the proceedings from New York to Boston. Over the years we helped launch the careers of numerous high-profile writers, including Renata Adler, Louis Begley, Marilynne Robinson, Ha Jin, Edward P. Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Haigh, Ben Fountain and Yiyun Li. Since 2001, the program has announced a winner, two finalists and two runners-up, each of whom benefits from the attention.

The awards ceremony is held each year at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, home of the Hemingway Collection of manuscripts, documents, artifacts, multi-media and other resources important to scholars and the reading public. Hemingway family members, including Patrick and Carol Hemingway and Sean and Colette Hemingway, are frequent attendees.

Partick HemingwayA popular tradition of the afternoon awards program is Patrick’s reading of a usually obscure and often humorous bit of his father’s prose.

At the awards ceremony on March 24, 2013, Kevin Powers, author of the Iraq War novel The Yellow Birds, became the latest recipient of the PEN/Hemingway Award. Also named were two finalists: Jennifer duBois, author of A Partial History of Lost Causes; and Vaddey Ratner, for In the Shadow of the Banyan.  Honorable mentions went to Catherine Chung (Forgotten Country) and Peter M. Wheelwright (As It Is On Earth).


Patrick Hemingway, center, is surrounded by a new generation of literary talent at the 2013 PEN/Hemingway Award ceremony at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. From left: Colm Toibin, the event’s keynote speaker, finalist Vaddey Ratner, Patrick Hemingway, finalist Jennifer duBois, winner Kevin Powers.

The PEN/Hemingway winner receives $10,000, and each of the finalists is offered residencies at the University of Idaho and the Ucross Foundation’s artists and writers retreat in Wyoming.

Judges for the 2013 award included Oscar Hijuelos, Amy Bloom and Craig Nova, prominent writers all.

At the same annual event, PEN New England also gives out awards for best fiction, nonfiction and poetry by a New England writer. In 2013, those went to Heidi Julavits, The Vanishers; Bernd Heinrich, Life Everlasting; and David Huddle, Blacksnake at the Family Reunion. 

The Hemingway Foundation values our partnership with the Hemingway family, PEN New England and other program sponsors, including the Kennedy Library, the Friends of the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the library, Cerulli Associates, the University of Idaho and the Ucross Foundation.

Since the Hemingway Society’s international conference in Kansas City in 2008, the Foundation has been making extra efforts to raise money to enhance our support for the PEN/Hemingway Award and to help boost its presence on the literary map. Contributions are always welcome and can be made here on the website or by check (made out to Hemingway Foundation with a subject line of PEN Awards) and mailed to foundation treasurer Carl Eby at 46 Meridian Rd., Beaufort, SC 29907.

Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour interviewed Kevin Powers about his winning book at “Conversation: Kevin Powers, Author of ‘The Yellow Birds.’”

The New York Times reviewed The Yellow Birds in their Sunday Book Review

For a complete list of the PEN/Hemingway Winners since 1976, click here .

Guidelines and submission forms for The 2015 PEN/Hemingway Award are available for download here.
The guidelines and submission forms for the 2014 award are available here.