This week (September 25), the National Book Foundation unveiled its 2017 ‘5 Under 35’ honorees, which features a selection of debut fiction writers under the age of 35 whose work “promises to leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape.”
The selectors responsible for choosing the honorees are a mix of previous National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and writers who were recognized by the 5 Under 5 program.
This year’s panel involves Chris Bachelder (2016 NBA Finalist for Fiction for The Throwback Special); Lydia Millet (2016 NBA Longlist for Fiction for Sweet Lamb of Heaven); Angela Flournoy (2015 NBA Finalist for Fiction and 5 Under 35 honoree for The Turner House); Karan Mahajan (2016 NBA Finalist for Fiction for The Association of Small Bombs); Sherman Alexie (2007 NBA Winner for Young People’s Literature for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).
This year’s roundup is particularly special because the honorees this time around are women. This is a rare and momentous phenomenon that has only occurred once ever before in the program’s history, in 2013.
Check out the honorees, below.
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Lesley Nneka Arimah, What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky
Selector: Chris Bachelder
Synopsis: In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions.
Halle Butler, Jillian
Selector: Lydia Millet
Synopsis: Megan, recently out of college and working a meaningless job as a gastroenterologist’s secretary, openly hates all of her friends for being happy and successful. She makes herself feel better by obsessively critiquing the behavior of her coworker, Jillian, a rapid cycling, grotesque optimist, whose downfall is precipitated by the purchase of a dog.
Zinzi Clemmons, What We Lose
Selector: Angela Flournoy
Synopsis: Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.
In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.
Leopoldine Core, When Watched: Stories
Selector: Karan Mahajan
Synopsis: Refreshing, witty, and absolutely close to the heart, Core’s twenty stories, set in and around New York City, have an other-worldly quality along with a deep seriousness—even a moral seriousness. What we know of identity is smashed and in its place, true individuals emerge, each bristling with a unique sexuality, a belief-system all their own. Reminiscent of Jane Bowles, William Burroughs, and Colette, her writing glows with an authenticity that is intoxicating and rare.
Weike Wang, Chemistry
Selector: Sherman Alexie
Synopsis: Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research—and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can’t make a life before finding success on her own. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she’s confronted with a question she won’t find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry—one in which the reactions can’t be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.