While the National Book Foundation is best known for its National Book Awards, it also guides us to some of the best young writers in the country with its “5 Under 35” awards. The winners are chosen by National Book Award winners or finalists; there is no nomination process, and no one has any idea who is being considered for the award.
Today the NBF announced the 2018 recipients — three women and two men — chosen by judges Claire Vaye Watkins, Carmen Maria Machado, Samantha Hunt, Colson Whitehead, and Bill Clegg.
Hannah Lillith Assadi’s debut novel, Sonora (Soho Press), is a fever dream tale about two girls from Phoenix who move to New York City in search of adventure. Assadi, the daughter of a Palestinian father and Jewish mother, grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona and attended Columbia University. Sonora is based in part on the experiences of cultural isolation and conflict that led her to move to NYC. (Chosen by Claire Vaye Watkins)
Akwaeke Emezi was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. as a child. Freshwater is an autobiographical novel about a girl who, one might say, contains multitudes that are not understood or treated well by her family and community. After immigrating to the U.S., she is the victim of a traumatic experience that exacerbates her unique sense of selves. In a Washington Post article, Emezi said the book is based on her journal entries from a decade ago and reflects the way her mind works. (Chosen by Carmen Maria Machado)
Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State is yet another semi-autobiographical novel, this one informed by her experiences visiting family in far northern California. In The Golden State, a young wife and mother whose Turkish husband is experiencing difficulties getting back home from Turkey decides to take her baby daughter to live in a mobile home she’s inherited in the desert 400 miles away. Kiesling explores the contrasts between urban and rural life in California — a far more culturally, economically, and geographically diverse state than many realize – as well as issues of immigration and identity, motherhood and independence. (Chosen by Samantha Hunt)
The other two recipients are Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (chosen by Colson Whitehead), whose debut story collection, Friday Black, is out next month, and Moriel Rothman-Zecher (chosen by Bill Clegg), author of Sadness is a White Bird, a novel about Palestinian twins and the Israeli soldier they befriend.