PEN Awards Finalists, Eighty-Two Writers Pen a Letter to Oprah About American Dirt, and More


Every day Poets & Writers Magazine scans the headlines—publishing reports, literary dispatches, academic announcements, and more—for all the news that creative writers need to know. Here are today’s stories.

PEN America has announced the finalists for its annual literary awards, including the PEN Open Book Award, and prizes for a debut short collection, a debut novel, a prose translation, a poetry translation, an essay collection, a biography, and a work of science writing; the finalists for the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award were named earlier this month. The winners for all the awards will be announced live at a ceremony in New York City on March 2. 

Eighty-two writers have signed a letter to Oprah Winfrey, asking that she rescind the decision to make American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins an Oprah’s Book Club pick. “This is not a letter calling for silencing, nor censoring. But in a time of widespread misinformation, fearmongering, and white-supremacist propaganda related to immigration and to our border, in a time when adults and children are dying in US immigration cages, we believe that a novel blundering so badly in its depiction of marginalized, oppressed people should not be lifted up.” (Literary Hub)

Lee & Low Books has released the results of its second Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS), which collected data from 153 companies across the publishing industry in 2019. According to the survey, 76 percent of the industry is white. While this figure represents a slight decrease from the results of Lee & Low’s first DBS survey in 2015, which reported 79 percent of people identified as white, the surveyors note this change is not statistically significant. After analyzing the survey’s data on race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability, they note, “Our baseline numbers have not shown a compelling change.”

In a press release, the Texas Book Festival announced that Matthew Patin will serve as its new literary director. Patin will direct year-round literary programming for the organization, as well as curate the lineup for the twenty-fifth annual festival, to be held in November this year. With more than fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry, Patin has most recently worked as an independent book editor, writer, and literary consultant.  

Anna Held reflects on her attempts to write about her mother’s addiction, and finding a new path when the writing felt hopeless. “Last year, instead of writing I started reading about addiction in pursuit of understanding.” (Electric Literature)

Chana Porter talks to the Chicago Review of Books about the inspiration behind the near-future world of her debut novel, The Seep. “My favorite settings for science fiction are not clear-cut dystopias, but rather complicated futures with emotionally driven narratives.” 

Ed Simon contemplates the poetic and literary nature of prayer. (Millions)

Bethanne Patrick recommends ten books to read this February. (Washington Post)