Judges have selected the five finalists for the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction. The finalists are: Blanche McCrary Boyd for Tomb of the Unknown Racist (Counterpoint), Richard Powers for The Overstory (W.W. Norton), Ivelisse Rodriguez for Love War Stories (Feminist Press New York), Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi for Call Me Zebra (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Willy Vlautin for Don’t Skip Out on Me (Harper Perennial).

“This year’s finalists are proof that we are living in an age in which tremendous, significant stories are being told by a multiplicity of unique voices,” said PEN/Faulkner Executive Director Gwydion Suilebhan. “We are honored to be able to call attention toward such profound, thrilling artistry.”

This year’s judges—Percival Everett, Ernesto Quiñonez, and Joy Williams—considered more than 400 novels and short story collections by American authors. The judges made the following collective statement about their selections:

“In this year’s fiction we experienced more honesty and generosity than in any head of state. In a time when our leaders are telling us that our lives don’t matter, that language exists only to convey misinformation, we found all entrants speaking loudly, eloquently, and timelessly, reaffirming that our lives do. Our finalists were chosen for their genuine and emotional possession of an American narrative that includes us all, beyond walls or any lines.”   

The winner, who will receive $15,000, will be announced on April 29, 2019. The remaining four finalists will each receive an honorarium of $5,000. In a ceremony that celebrates the winner as “first among equals,” all five authors will be honored during the 39th Annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony on May 4 at 7 pm. This year’s ceremony will be held at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Tickets are $95 for the reading ceremony and cocktail reception, which will feature specialty cocktails and an hors d’oeuvres buffet. Tickets can be purchased online at https://pfaward19.eventbrite.com

About the Finalists

Blanche McCrary Boyd is an American novelist, journalist, essayist, and professor. She is the author of five novels and a collection of autobiographical journalism (The Redneck Way of Knowledge, 1981). Her newest novel, Tomb of the Unknown Racist (2018), completes The Blacklock Trilogy. Tomb of the Unknown Racist is narrated by the same character as The Revolution of Little Girls (1991) and Terminal Velocity (1997), although the three novels function independently. Boyd’s essays and reporting have appeared in venues such as the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Ms, Vanity Fair, and Village Voice.
Blanche McCrary Boyd grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, the source of her ‘redneck’ roots, and much of her writing radiates from her Southern background. Her works traverse the racial and political contradictions of the second half of the 20th century, intertwining personal and psychological adventures with feminist protests, lesbianism, racial conflicts, and a confrontation with the violent white supremacist subculture.

Richard Powers is the author of twelve novels, including The Overstory (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), Orfeo (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), The Echo Maker and The Time of Our Singing. He is the recipient of a MacArthur grant and the National Book Award and has been a Pulitzer Prize and four-time National Book Critics Circle finalist.


Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez earned a PhD in English and creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an MFA from Emerson College. She has published fiction in All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, as well as Obsidian, Label Me Latina/o, the Boston Review, Kweli, Aster(ix), and the Bilingual Review, among other publications. Love War Stories is her first book.


Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Call Me Zebra, published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in February 2018 and in the U.K. by Alma Books in May 2018, and Fra Keeler, published in 2012 by Dorothy: a publishing project, and by Giulio Perrone Editore in Italy. Van der Vliet Oloomi won a Whiting Writers’ Award and a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” award; she was a finalist for the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Emerging Author Award, and on the longlist for the PEN Open Book Award. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a Fellowship from the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes in Barcelona, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Ledig House. Her work has been compared to that of Vladimir Nabokov, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rachel Kushner. Van der Vliet Oloomi’s work has appeared in Electric Literature, The Paris Review, GRANTA, Guernica, BOMB, and the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal, among other places. Call Me Zebra is forthcoming from Paralela 45 in Romania and Paris Yayinlari in Turkey. She is an Assistant Professor in the English Department’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Notre Dame, splitting her time between South Bend, Indiana, and Florence, Italy.

Born and raised in Reno, Nevada, Willy Vlautin started playing guitar and writing songs as a teenager and quickly became immersed in music. It was a Paul Kelly song, based on Raymond Carver’s “Too Much Water So Close to Home” that inspired him to start writing stories. Vlautin has published five novels: The Motel Life (2007–NYT Editor’s choice and notable book, made into a major motion picture starring Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsh, Stephen Dorff, and Kris Kristofferson), Northline (2008), Lean on Pete (2010-Winner of the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, short-listed for the IMPAC award, and a major motion picture starring Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny), and The Free (2014-Winner of the Oregon People’s Choice Award). His fifth novel, Don’t Skip Out on Me, has just come out in paperback. His work has been translated in ten languages.