Literary Award

Established in 1950, The Athenaeum Literary Award recognizes books of literary excellence by local authors and/or works that examine and reflect life in the greater Philadelphia area. The award is given annually, including a cash prize and an invitation to give a public lecture at The Athenaeum.

The Literary Award Committee judges books in accordance with the values set forth in its mission statement: "the Athenaeum of Philadelphia nurtures curiosity in members and neighbors, strengthening community through learning and discourse."

Books must be published in the calendar year for which the award will be given, submitted by December 1st of that year, and received by December 15th. The award is only for the calendar year, and books that do not win or are submitted/received after the deadline are not eligible for future awards.

The Committee may award one winner each in the categories of fiction and nonfiction, but may choose not to do so in any given year.
A worthy book, whether academic, literary, or popular, must be well-written, engaging, and accessible to a wide readership. Winning books will reflect fresh points of view, or shed new or unusual light on the greater Philadelphia area, and invite lively dialogue about our world.

Anthologies may be considered for the Award, as long as either the editor is local or the subject matter meets the criteria cited above. Likewise, books of collected stories or essays may be considered, provided they meet the above criteria and at least one portion has not been previously published.
Books that will not be considered for the award include, but may not be limited to:

  • Self-published books
  • Prescriptive and non-narrative nonfiction, such as self-help and cookbooks
  • Books intended exclusively for an academic audience or of highly limited appeal to general readers
  • Books of poetry
  • Books for children or young adults
  • Books consisting exclusively of photography and associated captions
In recognition of his role in establishing the literary award, presentations are usually part of the Charles Wharton Stork Memorial Lecture program which was endowed in 1983 by his children. Dr. Stork (1881-1971) was a member of the board of directors from 1919 to 1968.

How To Apply

Authors or publishers may nominate appropriate works by sending two copies of each to:

Literary Award Committee
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia
219 S. 6th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106-3794

Authors and publishers are encouraged to submit works as soon as they are published, rather than waiting until the end of the year.

Questions? Please contact the librarian.
2018 winner Madeline Miller with Executive Director Peter Conn (L) and President Edward Scharff (R)
2018 winner Patrick Spero with Executive Director Beth Hessel and President Edward Scharff
David Amadio
Rug Man
Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2023
David Barnes
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023
Will Bunch
After the Ivory Tower Falls
New York: William Morrow, 2022
John Lobell
The Philadelphia School and the Future of Architecture
New York: Routledge, 2022
Laura Wolf-Powers
University City: History, Race and Community in the Era of the Innovation District
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022
Quiara Alegría Hudes

My Broken Language
New York: Penguin Random House, 2021
Miles Orvell
Empire of Ruins
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021
Michele Harper

The Beauty in Breaking
New York: Riverhead Books, 2020
Lynn Miller and Therese Dolan
Salut! France Meets Philadelphia
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2020
Edward Posnett

Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects
New York: Viking, 2019
Witold Rybczynski
Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019
Madeline Miller

New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2018
Patrick Spero
Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018
Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Never Caught: the Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
New York: 37 Ink/Atria, 2017
Carol Eaton Soltis
The Art of the Peales in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Adaptations and Innovations
Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2017
Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin

The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age
New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2016
Judith E. Stein
Eye of the Sixties: Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016
David Grazian

American Zoo: A Sociological Safari
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015
Barbara Miller Lane
Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs, 1945–1965
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015
Jessica Choppin Roney
Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014
Adrian Raine
The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime
New York: Pantheon, 2013
George H. Marcus and William Whitaker
The Houses of Louis Kahn
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013

For a complete list of past winners, please click here.