Congratulations to Imbolo Mbue, winner of the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her novel Behold the Dreamers (Penguin Random House), and congratulations again to our four finalists:
Viet Dinh for After Disasters (Little A, Seattle)
Louise Erdrich for LaRose (HarperCollins)
Garth Greenwell for What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)
Sunil Yapa for Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Little, Brown)
About the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Winner and Finalists:
Behold the Dreamers
(Penguin Random House)
Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, covers the struggle of immigrants longing to become American citizens, the stark divide between rich and poor, and the global financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers. At the center of the novel is Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant who takes a job as a personal chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. It opens a window into a world of astounding privilege. Even as he works his way through immigration court, Jende remains aggressively optimistic about the promise of America, and soon his wife too begins working for the Edwards family. But in the days before the historic 2008 election, as Lehman Brothers declares bankruptcy, the cracks in the Edwards family begin to show — as do the things that make this country both blessed and doomed. Michael Schaub, in his review on NPR, writes that Behold the Dreamers is a story with “no false notes, no narrative shortcuts, and certainly no manufactured happy endings.”
A native of Cameroon, Mbue currently lives in New York City.
(Little A, Seattle)
Viet Dinh’s After Disasters is the ambitious debut novel chronicling trauma in many forms, from ecological, to psychological, to colonial. Based loosely on the major earthquake that struck the Gujarat province in India in 2001, the novel stitches together the lives of four men who arrive to join in relief efforts. Ted is a pharmaceutical salesmen turned U.S. aid-worker; Piotr is a haunted, Bosnian War Veteran; Andy is a young British firefighter eager for action; and Dev is an Indian AIDS doctor given the impossible task of tending to quake victims without the resources or time. In their attempt to redirect the forces of death and chaos, the disaster leads all four men to confront the fault lines of desire, love, and duty, in their own lives and the lives of strangers. Heidi Hong for the Los Angeles Times Book Review writes, “Dinh’s storytelling is attuned to paradox and interconnectedness, showing us that catastrophic events can change lives irrevocably while being only one of many ongoing tragedies in a short life.”
Dinh was born in Vietnam and grew up in Colorado. He currently lives in Wilmington, Delaware and teaches in the English Department at the University of Delaware.
Louise Erdrich’s La Rose unfolds from a single, tragic shot. While hunting near his home on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation one afternoon, Landreaux Iron accidently shoots his best friend’s son, Dusty. The two families, the Irons and the Ravichs, are plunged into blinding grief. But, Landreaux and his wife Emmaline arrive at an act of atonement: “Our son will be your son now,” they tell Peter Ravich, handing over a suitcase, “It’s the old way.” And so they leave their son, LaRose, to be raised in place of another boy. The story that follows traces the contours of grief—and both the possibilities and limitations of forgiveness. In his review of LaRose in The Washington Post, Ron Charles writes, “[Erdrich] gently insists that there are abiding spirits in this land and alternative ways of living and forgiving that have somehow survived the West’s best efforts to snuff them out.”
Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels, including The Round House, which won the National Book Award for Fiction, Love Medicine, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Plague of Doves, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. An enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Erdrich lives in Minnesota where she is the owner of Birchbark Books.
What Belongs to You
(Farrar, Straus, Giroux)
Garth Greenwell’s debut novel What Belongs to You begins on a downward arc. The narrator, a young American teacher living in Bulgaria, searches for anonymous sex in public bathrooms under the National Palace of Culture. There he meets a rough, captivating man named Mitko who quickly takes the narrator up on his offer. What follows is the development of a relationship so tangled that it threatens to cast the narrator’s neatly measured life into disarray. Greenwell transforms introspective material into a thrilling narrative the plumbs the depths of what it means to love, what it means to lust, and what we are and are not able to confess. Aaron Hamburger writes in The New York Times, “‘What Belongs to You’ is a rich, important debut, an instant classic to be savored by all lovers of serious fiction because of, not despite, its subject: a gay man’s endeavor to fathom his own heart.”
Along with What Belongs to You, Greenwell is the author of the novella, Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Debut Fiction Prize and a Lambda Award. He lives in Iowa City, where he holds the Richard E. Guthrie Memorial Fellowship at the University of Iowa.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
In Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa tells the story of the Seattle World Trade Organization Protests of 1999 through a cast of rotating characters, evoking the human elements of a mass protest. Victor is the central character among these. A young black runaway and the estranged stepson of the white police chief presiding over the protest, Victor is hoping that the crowds gathered outside the WTO conference center will make for a pot-selling business opportunity. Other chapters are told from the perspectives of two street medics, a Sri Lankan delegate attempting to attend the conference so his country can gain admittance to the WTO, and Victor’s own estranged stepfather, Police Chief Bishop. The book displays the competing individual desires of a protest: activists who what justice, delegates who strive for economic growth, and cops who are trying to maintain order amidst perceived chaos. In The New York Times, Jenny Hendrix writes, “At the center of the novel is the same question posed by the protests themselves: What kind of world do we want, and what must we do to get it?”
Yapa is a Sri Lankan-American and lives in upstate New York
About the 2017 Judges:
Chris Abani is a novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter, and playwright. Born in Nigeria to an Igbo father and English mother, he grew up in Afikpo, Nigeria and received a BA in English from Imo State University in Nigeria, a BA in English, Gender and Culture from Birbeck College, University of London and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. He is the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the PEN Hemmingway Book Prize and Guggenheim Award. His fiction includes The Secret History of Las Vegas, Song for Night, The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail, GraceLand, and Masters of the Board. He has lived in the United States since 2001.
Chantel Acevedo‘s novels include Love and Ghost Letters, which won the Latino International Book Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book of the Year, Song of the Red Cloak, a historical novel for young adults, A Falling Star, winner of the Doris Bakwin Award and a National Bronze Medal IPPY Award, and The Distant Marvels, one of the Booklist’s Top Ten Historical Novels of 2015. THE MILK BROTHER, a novel about the Infanta Eulalia, is forthcoming in 2017. Her fiction and poetry have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Poetry Review, North American Review, and Chattahoochee Review. Acevedo is currently an Associate Professor of English in the MFA Program of the University of Miami.
Sigrid Nunez is the author of the novels, A Feather on the Breath of God, a finalist for both the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction and the Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award and received the Association for Asian American Studies Award for best novel of the year, Naked Sleeper, Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury, winner of the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award, For Rouenna, The Last of Her Kind, and Salvation City. Nunez is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Her new novel, The Friend, will be published by Riverhead in 2018. Nunez has taught at Princeton, Amherst, Smith, Columbia, the New School, Boston University, and Brooklyn College, and has been a visiting writer, or a writer in residence at Washington University, Baruch, Vassar, and the University of California at Irvine, among others. Sigrid Nunez lives in New York City.
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About the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is a national prize which honors the best published works of fiction by American citizens in a calendar year. Three writers are chosen annually by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation to serve as judges for the prize, and these judges are asked to select five books as finalists for the award, making this the largest peer-juried award in the country. Both the eventual winner of the award and all finalists are invited to Washington, D.C. for the PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony and Dinner.
Celebrating the winner as “first among equals,” the 37th Annual PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony will take place at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. The event will feature the judges’ citations for each finalist’s book, the conferral of the PEN/Faulkner Award, and a reading by each author.
Each year, the PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony & Dinner is open to the public. Tickets are available for purchase through the Box Office of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Call the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077 for more information.
A list of past winners and finalists of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction can be found here.