The PEN/Faulkner Foundation unveiled the longlist for its prestigious fiction prize Tuesday and announced that actor and Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton will be honored as the first-ever PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion.
Ten books will compete for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, including Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, which was a National Book Award finalist last year, and Yaa Gyasi’s bestselling Transcendent Kingdom.
Two debut books made the longlist: K-Ming Chang’s Bestiary and Brian Castleberry’s Nine Shiny Objects. Three of the books on the list came from non-Big Five publishers: Philyaw’s story collection (West Virginia University Press), Matthew Salesses’ Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear (Little A), and Steve Wiegenstein’s Scattered Lights (Cornerpost Press).
The foundation also announced its new Literary Champion award, which will “recognize devoted literary advocacy and a commitment to inspiring new generations of readers and writers.” Burton, a longtime literacy activist, was named the first winner.
“As we move forward out of a time when alternative facts and mendacious propaganda shaped public opinion, the work you do through the PEN/Faulkner Award, and your committed investment in DC schools, has never been more important,” Burton said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more honored to be the inaugural PEN/Faulkner Literary Champion.”
A shortlist of five finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award will be revealed in March, with the winner announced the following month.
Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.