Chris Abani’s “Smoking the Bible” makes PEN America literary longllist

Chris Abani, whose prose includes The Secret History of Las Vegas, Song for Night, The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail, GraceLand, and Masters of the Board, has been longlisted in the 2023 Pen America Literary Awards Longlists for his poetry collection, Smoking the Bible. 

This year’s awards will confer $350,000 to more than 100 writers and translators in eleven different categories that include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, literature in translation, and more. The winners will be announced at the Literary Awards Ceremony on March 2nd at The Town Hall in New York City.

Abani’s other poetry collections are Sanctificum, There Are No Names for Red, Feed Me the Sun, Hands Washing Water, Dog Woman, Daphne’s Lot, and Kalakuta Republic. He holds a BA in English, an MA in gender and culture, an MA in English, and a PhD in literature and creative writing. He is the recipient of a PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, a Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond Margins Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, and a Guggenheim Award. Born in Nigeria, he is currently Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University, in Chicago. He is the editor of Eight New-Generation African Poets and New-Generation African Poets.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of PEN America’s first literary prize. In PEN America’s announcement of this year’s longlists, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief of literary programmes, writes that, “For 60 years, writers and translators selected for PEN America’s awards have brought us closer to unfamiliar lives and experiences and opened our minds to ideas and subjects we may not have realized could fascinate and instruct us.” 

There were 1,744 total entries this year with half of those on the longlists coming from independent and university presses. 

See the full list below:

PEN America literary longllist book awards in literature




This award is given to a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence. And this year’s judges are Joan Naviyuk Kane, Lauren Groff, and Madeleine Thien.

My Pinup by Hilton Als (New Directions)

Acting Class by Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly)

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (MCD)

Dr. No by Percival Everett (Graywolf Press)

Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso (Hogarth Press)

Milkweed Smithereens by Bernadette Mayer (New Directions)

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga (Graywolf Press)

The White Mosque by Sofia Samatar (Catapult)

Customs by Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf Press)

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (Tin House Books)



This award is given to an exceptional book-length work of any literary genre by an author of colour. This year’s judges are Jenn Baker, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Nina McConigley, and Erika L. Sanchez.

Golden Ax by Rio Cortez (Penguin Books)

Shutter by Ramona Emerson (Soho Crime)

The Black Period by Hafizah Augustus Geter (Random House)

The Listening Skin: Poems by Glenis Redmond (Four Way Books)

Gorgoneion by Casey Rocheteau (Noemi Press)

All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran (Penguin Books)

The Town of Babylon by Alejandro Varela (Astra House)

Making Love with the Land by Joshua Whitehead (University of Minnesota Press)

Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe (William Morrow & Company)

Solito by Javier Zamora (Hogarth Press)


This award is given to an author whose debut collection of short stories represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise for future work. And this year’s judges are Nafissa Thompson Spires, Chris Gonzalez, and Susan Muaddi Darraj.

Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo (Catapult)

Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin (Catapult)

Is This How You Eat a Watermelon? by Zein El-Amine (Radix Media)

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (MCD)

A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero (Restless Books)

A Calm & Normal Heart by Chelsea T. Hicks (The Unnamed Press)

What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri (Tin House Books)

The Anchored World by Jasmine Sawers (Rose Metal Press)

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (Tin House Books)

Manywhere by Morgan Thomas (MCD)


This award is given to a debut novel of exceptional literary merit by an American author. And this year’s judges are Gina Apostol, Oscar Cásares, and Matthew Salesses.

A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (Simon & Schuster)

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen (W. W. Norton & Company)

Shutter by Ramona Emerson (Soho Crime)

Nuclear Family by Joseph Han (Counterpoint)

Calling For a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah (Algonquin Books)

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley (Alfred A. Knopf)

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (William Morrow & Company)

Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong (Catapult)


This award is given to a poet whose distinguished collection of poetry represents a notable and accomplished literary presence. This year’s judges are Kimiko Hahn, Molly McCully Brown, Allison Rollins, and Willie Perdomo.

Smoking the Bible by Chris Abani (Copper Canyon Press)

[To] The Last [Be] Human by Jorie Graham (Copper Canyon Press)

Maafa by Harmony Holiday (Fence Books)

The Hurting Kind by Ada Limon (Milkweed Editions)

To The Realization of Perfect Helplessness by Robin Coste Lewis (Penguin Random House)

Cain Named The Animal by Shane Mcrae (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Pink Waves by Sawako Nakayasu (OmniDawn)

blood snow by Dg Nanouk Okpik (Wave Poetry)

Then The War by Carl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves (W. W. Norton & Company)


This award is given to a book-length translation of poetry from any language into English. And this year’s judges are Baba Badji, Mona Kareem, and Julia Leverone.

The Loose Pearl by Paula Ilabaca Nuñez (Coimpress)

Translated from Spanish by Daniel Borzutzky

No Way in the Skin without This Bloody Embrace by Jean D’Amérique (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Translated from French by Conor Bracken

The Threshold by Iman Mersal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Translated from Arabic by Robyn Creswell

claus and the scorpion by Lara Dopazo Ruibal (Coimpress)

Translated from Galician by Laura Cesarco Eglin

Dolore Minimo by Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto (Saturnalia Books)

Translated from Italian by Gabriella Fee and Dora Malech

Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season by Forough Farrokhzad (New Directions Publishing)

Translated from Persian by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.

distant transit by Maja Haderlap (Archipelago Books)

Translated from German by Tess Lewis

Motherfield by Julia Cimafiejeva (Deep Vellum Publishing)

Translated from Belarusian by Valzhyna Mort and Hanif Abdurraqib

The Rust of History by Sotero Rivera Avilés (Circumference)

Translated from Spanish by Raquel Salas Rivera

Adela Zamudio: Selected Poetry & Prose by Adela Zamudio (Fuente Fountain Books)

Translated from Spanish by Lynette Yetter


This award is given to a book-length translation of prose from any language into English. And this year’s judges are Layla Benitez-James, Slava Faybysh, Sora Kim-Russell, and Elton Uliana.

All Your Children, Scattered by Beata Umybyeyi Mairesse (Europa Editions)

Translated from French by Alison Anderson

The Tatami Galaxy by Tomihiko Morimi (HarperVia)

Translated from Japanese by Emily Balistrieri

Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda (Coffee House Press)

Translated from Spanish by Sarah Booker

Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Translated from Spanish by Anna Kushner

Moldy Strawberries by Caio Fernando Abreu (Archipelago Books)

Translated from Portuguese by Bruna Dantas Lobato

Toño the Infallible by Evelio Rosero (New Directions Publishing)

Translated from Spanish by Victor Meadowcroft and Anne McLean

Ghost Town by Kevin Chen (Europa Editions)

Translated from Taiwanese by Darryl Sterk

People from Bloomington by Budi Darma (Penguin Classics)

Translated from Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast by Dorthe Nors (Graywolf Press)

Translated from by Caroline Waight

Pina by Titaua Peu (Restless Books)

Translated from French by Jeffrey Zuckerman


This award is given to a seasoned writer whose collection of essays is an expansion on their corpus of work and preserves the distinguished art form of the essay. And this year’s judges are Jill Lepore, John McWhorter, and Simon Winchester.

I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessi Klein (HarperCollins)

Translating Myself and Others by Jhumpa Lahiri (Princeton University Press)

A Place in the World by Frances Mayes (Crown)

Still No Word From You by Peter Orner (Catapult)

Animal Bodies: On Death, Desire, and Other Difficulties by Suzanne Roberts (University of Nebraska Press)

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris (Little, Brown and Company)

Small Acreages by Georgia Green Stamper (Shadelandhouse Modern Press)

Streaming Now: Postcards from the Thing That Is Happening by Laurie Stone (Dottir Press)

A Left-Handed Woman by Judith Thurman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Green Hour: A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend (The University of Wisconsin Press)


This award is given to a work that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience. And this year’s judges are Tim Folger, David Hu, and Emily Raboteau.

Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist by Frans de Waal (W. W. Norton & Company)

Vagina Obscura by Rachel E. Gross (W. W. Norton & Company)

Orchid Muse by Erica Hannickel (W. W. Norton & Company)

Sounds Wild and Broken by David George Haskell (Viking)

A Molecule Away from Madness by Sara Manning Peskin (W. W. Norton & Company)

The Wine-Dark Sea Within: A Turbulent History of Blood by Dhun Sethna (Basic Books)

Big Bang of Numbers by Manil Suri (W. W. Norton & Company)

Heartbreak by Florence Williams (W. W. Norton & Company)

An Immense World by Ed Yong (Random House)

Dancing Cockatoos by Marlene Zuk (W. W. Norton & Company)


This award is given to a biography of exceptional literary, narrative, and artistic merit, based on scrupulous research. And this year’s judges are Manu Bhagavan and Silvana Paternostro.

An American Martyr in Persia: The Epic Life and Tragic Death of Howard Baskerville by Reza Aslan (W. W. Norton& Company)

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality by Tomiko Brown-Nagin (Pantheon)

Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm by Dan Charnas (MCD)

The Adventures of Herbie Cohen by Rich Cohen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage (Viking)

The Hyacinth Girl: T. S. Eliot’s Hidden Muse by Lyndall Gordon (W. W. Norton & Company)

Guru to the World: The Life and Legacy of Vivekananda by Ruth Harris (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century by Jennifer Homans (Random House)

The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler by David I. Kertzer (Random House)

Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins by Aidan Levy (Hachette Books)


This award is given to a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective that illuminates important contemporary issues. And this year’s judges are Sanjiv Bhattacharya, Geraldo Cadava, and Sofija Stefanovic.

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water: An Underground Journey with Afghan Refugees by Matthieu Aikins (HarperCollins)

Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America’s Woods by Lyndsie Bourgon (Little, Brown and Company)

After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics–And How to Fix It by Will Bunch (HarperCollins)

The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning by Eve Fairbanks (Simon & Schuster)

Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernandez (W. W. Norton & Company)

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry (HarperCollins)

The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind by Martin Sixsmith (Pegasus Books)

The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide by Steven W. Thrasher (Celadon Books)

The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet by Nell McShane Wulfhart (Random House)

Solito by Javier Zamora (Random House)

Looking for even more great recommendations? Check out last year’s winners.


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