Congratulations to Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Hannah Lillith Assadi, Akwaeke Emezi, Lydia Kiesling, and Moriel Rothman-Zecher, who were announced this morning as the National Book Foundation’s 2018 5 Under 35 honorees!
Each year, five debut fiction writers (under the age of 35) from around the world who have published their first and only book within the last five years, and whose work “promises to leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape,” are selected by previous National Book Award winners, finalists, long listed authors, or writers previously recognized by the 5 Under 35 Program to receive the prestigious award, which also comes with $1000 in prize money.
Previous honorees include Valeria Luiselli, Karen Russell, Justin Torres, Angela Flournoy, Téa Obreht, and Phil Klay, to name but a few.
Curious to know what the critics wrote about these now award-winning authors’ debuts? We’ve got you covered below.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black
(Mariner Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Selector: Colson Whitehead, 2016 National Book Award Winner for Fiction
“Adjei-Brenyah’s dozen stories are disturbingly spectacular, made even more so for what he does with magnifying and exposing the truth. At first read, the collection might register as speculative fiction, but current headlines unmasking racism, injustice, consumerism, and senseless violence prove to be clear inspirations … Ominous and threatening, Adjei-Brenyah’s debut is a resonating wake-up call to redefine and reclaim what remains of our humanity.”
–Terry Hong (Booklist)
Hannah Lillith Assadi, author of Sonora
Selector: Claire Vaye Watkins, 2012 5 Under 35 honoree
“…[a] wise and poetic debut … Glimpses of the otherworldly abound, alongside an abiding interest in the cosmos, and Assadi’s lyrical prose nicely complements these preoccupations with the unreal or the ungraspable. The structure, moving back and forth in time and space, adds a sense of the magical to a sometimes tragic but always beautiful coming-of-age story.”
Akwaeke Emezi, author of Freshwater
(Grove Atlantic Inc.)
Selector: Carmen Maria Machado, 2017 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction
“The novel is based in many of the realities of the writer’s life, but the prose is infused with imaginative lyricism and tone. In the end, this coming-of-age novel also has one foot on the other side, held between the open gates — a young woman of many nations and many souls. The journey undertaken in the novel is swirling and vivid, vicious and painful, and rendered by Emezi in shards as sharp and glittering as those with which Ada cuts her forearms and thighs, in blood offering to Asughara … Emezi’s lyrical writing, her alliterative and symmetrical prose, explores the deep questions of otherness, of a single heart and soul hovering between, the gates open, fighting for peace.”
–Susan Straight (The Los Angeles Times)
Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State
(MCD Books / Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Selector: Samantha Hunt, 2006 5 Under 35 honoree
“What Kiesling syntactically accomplishes is an exquisite look at the gulf between the narrow repetitive toil of motherhood and the sprawling intelligence of the mother that makes baby care so maddening … By telling the story of a new mother, someone who might surmount the odds and take a nap but will never achieve a year of rest and relaxation, The Golden State reveals the limitations of the dream of an end to responsibilities. We may all be Bartlebys, preferring not to, but we’re stuck here, caught in the sluggish machinery of late capitalism and its ‘godawful bureaucratic clusterfuck.’ ”
–Heather Abel (Slate)
Moriel Rothman-Zecher, author of Sadness Is a White Bird
(Atria Books / Simon & Schuster)
Selector: Bill Clegg, 2015 National Book Award Longlist for Fiction
“Searing in its beauty, devastating in its emotional power, and dazzling in its insights, Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s debut novel, Sadness Is a White Bird, is, I promise you, like nothing you’ve ever read … His particular vision of today’s Israel, told through a coming-of-age story, will break your heart … The novel sings out in the distinctive voices of Rothman-Zecher’s characters, in their almost palpable presence, and in their hopes and hesitations … Rothman-Zecher shows great skill in portraying different neighborhoods, not only in terms of physical characteristics, but also through capturing the cultural and atmospheric dimensions … I have only praise for this poetic, distressingly original book.”
–Philip K. Jason (The Washington Independent Review of Books)