Our History

by | Nov 24, 2020 | Voices from PEN/Faulkner

Celebrating literature, enriching our community

The work of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation began in 1980, when National Book Award-winner Mary Lee Settle set out to create the largest annual peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States. The award was named for William Faulkner, who had used his Nobel Prize funds to establish a prize for younger writers, and PEN, the international writers’ organization. In the four decades since, the PEN/Faulkner Award has become one of the top three national awards for fiction, celebrating a diverse list of authors and recognizing works that represent the highest achievement in the art form, and the PEN/Faulkner Foundation has significantly expanded the scope of its work. 

In 1983, Dr. O.B. Hardison Jr., the former director of Folger Shakespeare Library in DC, offered to house the administration of the PEN/Faulkner Award within the Folger. Shortly after the move to Washington, PEN/Faulkner organized itself as an independent non-profit arts organization and began hosting a series of public fiction readings, bringing writers to DC to share their work. Today, those readings have evolved into a Literary Conversations series that invites multiple authors into a shared space to engage in and inspire urgent public discourse about societal and literary subjects.

In 1989, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation launched its first education program, Writers in Schools, sending writers into DC schools to visit with students. In the ensuing 30+ years, our education programs have grown to provide thousands of students in Title I public and charter schools across the city with free, culturally-relevant books, author visits, and professional writing instruction, while also supporting more than 100 predominantly local writers through paid teaching opportunities. In 2017, we established Nuestras Voces, an initiative that brings Latinx- and Hispanic-centric versions of our education programs to the students we work with, allowing us to further serve the educational and literary needs of Latinx-identified students and English Language Learners in DC.

Join Our Mailing List

To make sure you never miss out on one of PEN/Faulkner’s inspiring literary programs and award celebrations, sign up for our email list.