The National Book Foundation, one of the largest institutions to recognize achievements in American arts and letters, has announced its annual 5 under 35 list of notable debut fiction writers, and its selections have been met with great cheer. For the second time in its 12 year history, the writers are entirely female, and for the first time, women of color make up the higher percentage.
“At a moment in which we are having the necessary conversations surrounding the underrepresentation of female voices, it’s a thrill to see this list of tremendous women chosen organically by our selectors,”Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation told The Cut, who first publicized the news. “These writers and their work represent an incredibly bright future for the world of literary fiction.”
This year’s honorees were each chosen by an individual veteran writer, all over 35 and three of them male. Both writer and juror are listed below, as well as a description of the works chosen.
Honoree: Lesley Nneka Arimah
For the story collection What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky
Published by Penguin Press
Chosen by novelist Chris Bachelder
From our review by Maranatha Bivens:
By playing with time and genre elements to amplify strangeness, Arimah expertly creates a patchwork of form and style that is textured, but uniformly so. It’s clear that these pieces are bound to one another, like a chorus of misfit storytellers gathered to illustrate the speed bumps of life that await us on the slow drive to self-actualization. These are stories that burrow their way into your brain and linger there long after you’ve set the book down.
Honoree: Halle Butler
For the novel Jillian
Published by Curbside Splendor Publishing
Chosen by novelist Lydia Millet
From a Chicago Tribune review by Kathleen Rooney:
This novel isn’t big on hope. Half-full or half-empty — oblivious like Jillian or incisive like Megan — you might end up in the same pathetic place, subject to the daily disappointments of the American workplace and the radically diminished rewards of the so-called American Dream, especially if you’re a woman… This is a grotesque and absurd book about grotesque and absurd people stuck in a system that is itself grotesque and absurd. It may be the feel-bad book of the year.
Honoree: Zinzi Clemmons
For the novel What We Lose
Published by Viking
Chosen by novelist Angela Flournoy
From an Atlantic review by Amy Weiss-Meyer:
Clemmons’ potent debut, What We Lose (Viking), depicts a young woman, Thandi, caught between cultures and identities, at home neither in her outspoken mother’s native Johannesburg, where she often visits with her parents, nor in their upscale Philadelphia suburb, where a white classmate informs her that she’s not, like, “a real black person.” […] One can’t help but think of Clemmons as in the running to be the next-generation Claudia Rankine, coming into her own by pushing against conventions of form and self, staking out the in-between spaces as place to call her own.
Honoree: Leopoldine Core
For the story collection When Watched
Published by Penguin Books
Chosen by novelist Karan Mahajan
From a New York Times review by Alexandra Kleeman:
“When Watched,” Leopoldine Core’s first collection of short stories, dwells in the realm of the sparkling mundane, the type of human matter that is invitingly recognizable, the type of matter that you yourself have participated in or observed. Written exclusively in the third person and unfolding almost in real time, Core’s stories have a voyeuristic quality, like peering through the windows of a ground-floor apartment as you walk by.
Honoree: Weike Wang
For the novel Chemistry
Published by Knopf
Chosen by writer Sherman Alexie
From a Washington Post review by Jamie Fischer
Chemistry is the most assured novel about indecisiveness you’ll ever read […] Despite its humor, Chemistry is an emotionally devastating novel about being young today and working to the point of incapacity without knowing what you should really be doing and when you can stop. I finished the book and [wiped] myself off the floor.