Announcing the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award Winner

WASHINGTON, DC—Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) has been selected as the winner of the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

“We are truly delighted to be able to honor such a rare and remarkable work of art,” said PEN/Faulkner Executive Director Gwydion Suilebhan. “Along with our other four finalists, Call Me Zebra makes absolutely clear what a towering moment this is for American fiction.”

This year’s judges—Percival Everett, Ernesto Quiñonez, and Joy Williams—considered more than 400 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the US during the 2018 calendar year. Submissions came from more than 180 publishing houses, including small and academic presses.

“History is the ultimate judge,” wrote Everett, Quiñonez, and Williams, “And it will certainly treat all five finalists with kindness. However, once in a while a singular, adventurous, and intellectually humorous voice appears that takes us on an inescapable journey. Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra is a library within a library, a Borges-esque labyrinth of references from all cultures and all walks of life. In today’s visual Netflix world, Ms. Van der Vliet Oloomi’s novel performs at the highest of levels in accomplishing only what the written novel can show us.”

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Call Me Zebra, which was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, and Fra Keeler, which received a Whiting Writers’ Award and was a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” selection. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and a Fellowship from the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes in Barcelona. Van der Vliet Oloomi is an Assistant Professor in the English Department’s MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Notre Dame.

“I discovered William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury alongside Toni Morrison’s Beloved almost two decades ago in my senior year of high school,” said Van der Vliet Oloomi. “These two books have remained an integral part of the evolution of my literary consciousness; I consider them material proof that the vital energy of life can be transmitted to readers across time and space and that literature has the potential to heal both the individual and the social body. Call Me Zebra represents an homage to the great writers of the past and present who have had the courage and intellectual stamina to think with their hearts about what it means to be human in a world where justice and equality remain scarce for so many. Winning the PEN/Faulkner Award at such a delicate and trying juncture in our nation’s troubled history is an honor I am infinitely grateful to carry. It is, for me, a reminder from our mysterious universe that honest writing can allow us to speak humbly with one another, an intimation to love and to listen deeply each time I set pen to paper.”

The PEN/Faulkner Award is America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction. As winner, Van der Vliet Oloomi will receive a $15,000 prize. Each of the four finalists—Blanche McCrary Boyd, for Tomb of the Unknown Racist; Richard Powers, for The Overstory; Ivelisse Rodriguez, for Love War Stories; and Willy Vlautin, for Don’t Skip Out on Me—will receive $5,000. Recent winners include Joan Silber, for Improvement; Imbolo Mbue, for Behold the Dreamers; James Hannaham, for Delicious Foods; Atticus Lish, for Preparation for the Next Life; and Karen Joy Fowler, for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, among many others.

All five authors will be honored at the 39th Annual PEN/Faulkner Awards, which celebrates the winner as “first among equals.” The ceremony will be held at Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater, which is located at 1101 6th Street NW in Washington, DC, on Saturday, May 4 at 7 pm. Washington Post book critic Ron Charles will serve as master of ceremonies for an evening that will include presentations of new writing by all five finalists. Tickets are $95 for the reading ceremony and formal reception, which will feature specialty cocktails and an hors d’oeuvres buffet. Tickets can be purchased online at https://pfaward19.eventbrite.com.

4/30 | Literature On Screen: The Hate U Give

Don’t miss our final Literary Conversation of the season on Tuesday, April 30th at AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center! Get your tickets now!

Join us in welcoming author Angie Thomas and actor Russell Hornsby to DC as they discuss the translation of the bestselling novel, The Hate U Give, to the critically acclaimed movie adaptation, as well as the very real events that inspired the story. This unique Literary Conversations event will feature a reading from the novel as well as select clips from the film The Hate U Give.

The conversation will be moderated by MahoganyBooks Co-Founder Ramunda Young, and will be followed by a Q&A and book signing. Copies of Thomas’ novel The Hate U Give will be available for sale.


Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her award-winning, acclaimed debut novel, The Hate U Give, is a #1 New York Times bestseller and major motion picture from Fox 2000, starring Amandla Stenberg and directed by George Tillman, Jr. Her second novel, On the Come Up, is on sale now.

Actor Russell Hornsby has amassed a catalog of film, television and stage credits that any actor would envy. From comedies and science fiction to dramas and stage plays, his craftsmanship has always rung sharp and true. Hornsby starred in the Oscar-nominated film FENCES, opposite Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and held his own with a powerhouse presentation of his character, Lyons, which Hornsby played in the Broadway revival of FENCES in 2010, also with Washington & Davis. Hornsby also starred opposite Regina King in the critically acclaimed Netflix mini-series “Seven Seconds” from writer Veena Sud (“The Killing”), appeared in an arc in the recent season of Showtime’s “The Affair,” and can currently be seen starring in the hit Fox series “Proven Innocent,” from showrunner Danny Strong (“Empire”).

Up next, Hornsby will star in the NBC pilot “Lincoln” (aka The Bone Collector), a drama series based on the bestselling book series by Jeffery Deaver that adapted into the 1999 movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Hornsby will play the titular role of ‘Detective Lincoln Rhyme,’ a New York City police detective and a maverick who becomes obsessed with taking down the Bone Collector, an elusive serial killer who enjoys taunting the police while tormenting the victims.

Hornsby is perhaps recently best known for his outstanding role in the box office hit sequel CREED II, opposite Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. Additionally, Hornsby has garnered much praise for his award buzzworthy role in the Fox 2000 film THE HATE U GIVE, for which he was nominated for an NAACP image award for Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. Hornsby’s other film credits include roles in the Jim Sheridan-directed GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN’ and the Sundance Grand Jury Award nominated film LUV from director Sheldon Candis.

In term of television, Hornsby is no stranger to America’s living rooms, having starred on numerous drama series including the critically-acclaimed ABC Family show “Lincoln Heights” as police officer Eddie Sutton. He could also be seen fighting to keep humanity safe from things that go bump in the night, in his role as hard-nosed detective Hank Griffin on NBC’s smash hit “Grimm.” Additionally, Hornsby is known for his role as ‘Luke’ on HBO’s “In Treatment,” opposite Gabriel Byrne (THE USUAL SUSPECTS).

Hornsby also has an extensive theatre background and became an aspiring thespian after auditioning and winning the role of the Scarecrow in his high school production of THE WIZ. Hornsby has taken the more traditional – and currently less traveled – route to his success cutting his teeth on stage. While the phrase “paying his dues” is about as cliché as it gets when referring to an actor’s journey, Russell is its embodiment as he progressed from backroom performances to the bright lights of New York’s famed theater district, Broadway, where he’s appeared in numerous productions including a stint in August Wilson’s FENCES. Hornsby’s run the gambit with TV, film and even video game voice work on his resume.

Born and raised in Oakland, California, Hornsby was in the theatre program at Boston University and studied for a summer at the British Academy of Dramatic Arts program at Oxford University. Hornsby currently resides with his family in Los Angeles.

Ramunda Lark Young and her husband Derrick are Co-Founders and Owners of the nationally recognized and award-winning MahoganyBooks located in the historic Anacostia community of Washington, DC. A bookstore focused on books for, by, and about people of the African Diaspora in Washington, DC. Young has successfully worked with celebrity authors like ballet icon Misty Copeland, R&B legend Charlie Wilson, Civil Rights leader Congressman John Lewis, award winning actor Omar Epps and countless others.

Young is the founder of The Ramunda Young Group (formerly Ramunda Young, Inc). – a company dedicated to Encouraging Extraordinary Women to SOAR – Surpass Obstacles and Rise! Built on the principle that women can exceed beyond their expectations when given the proper tools to build authentic business relationships. Young also currently serves as Vice Chair of the Prince William County Human Rights Commission.

She has been named to the Root 100 list of Most Influential African Americans in the nation (2018) and featured in Essence Magazine, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post and others. Ms. Young graduated from Langston University in Oklahoma with a degree in Business. She and her husband are excited parents of a precocious teen named Mahogany.
www.RamundaYoung.com
ramunda@mahoganybooks.com

 

“Diverse Voices in Latinx Children’s Literature” Mini-Conference

In early March I attended the “Diverse Voices in Latinx Children’s Literature” Mini-Conference at the Bank Street College of Education in New York where I had the opportunity to listen to panels about graphic novels and pictures books and how these authors use their Latinx identity and Spanish language to influence their writing. Panelists such as Duncan Tonatiuh, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, Anika Aldamuy Denise, Pablo Cartaya, and Aida Salazar spoke about the importance of Latinx representation throughout literature; coming from a mixed-race family and how that affects one’s identity; and the need to have uncomfortable yet necessary conversations about race and borders.

One of the goals of PEN/Faulkner’s Nuestra Voz programming is to spark these types of conversations about immigration, identities, and borders by providing students with opportunities to read books by and about authors who are immigrants or from immigrant families, who struggle with their identities, and who want to speak out about inequality in today’s society.

As the Nuestra Voz Program Associate, I work closely with Latinx/Hispanic authors, texts, and students to make these conversations happen. In her introduction to the conference, the president of the American Library Association, Loida Garcia-Febo, highlighted the importance of books and having a personal library. “Libraries equal strong communities,” she said. Similarly, Writers in Schools, the education arm of PEN/Faulkner which Nuestra Voz is part of, believes in building personal libraries, developing a joy of reading and writing, and in building community.

As a native Spanish speaker myself, listening to the panelists intertwine Spanish words into their conversation and express their concerns about the use of brackets, asterisks, and italics when using Spanish words in an English text was refreshing. Miranda-Rodriguez stated, “If you want to know what it means, pull out your smartphone and Google it.”

At PEN/Faulkner, we value literature and representation and we strive to create a space for Latinx/Hispanic voices to be heard. “If you don’t relate to it, learn from it,” stated Hilda Burgos.

To read more and watch the conference in full, click here.

Nina Arroyo Santiago, Nuestra Voz Program Associate

Announcing the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award Finalists!

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.

3/10: Don’t Miss Fantastic Women at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation & the National Museum of Women in the Arts present “Fantastic Women.” Tickets on sale now!

Join us in celebrating the work of Lesley Nneka Arimah, Kelly Link, and Carmen Maria Machado, women writers who all use elements of the fantastic in their work, often in ways that allow them to explore crucial themes (power, sexuality, identity, the body) without the constraints imposed by strict realism. These authors play with the boundaries of time and space through short stories and novels, and use their writing to push back against the traditional boundaries of women’s fiction.

The conversation, moderated by DC native Amber Sparks, will be followed by a Q&A and a book signing reception. This will be an unforgettable night of engaging dialogue and conversation, and we hope to see you there!

Fantastic Women is presented as a part of PEN/Faulkner’s Literary Conversations series and the NMWA’s Cultural Capital Program.

Black Lives Matter Week of Action

Black Lives Matter at School

Today kicks off the DC area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in DC public and charter schools across the city. All this week, PEN/Faulkner’s Writers in Schools program will be hosting conversations between Black writers and students in schools across four wards of the city, with a special emphasis on how the power of stories and storytelling can improve the school experience for students of color.

Each conversation will be rooted in books about the Black experience and will be led by writers interested in connecting their writing and lived experience to that of young people. A bit about the books and writers:

  • In the illustrated picture book A Card From My Father, Samantha Thornhill writes about a young girl struggling with loss and grief for her incarcerated father.
  • In New Kid, graphic novelist Jerry Craft tells the story of a young man forced to navigate between two worlds: the one in which he grew up and a wealthy private arts school.
  • Local poets Alan King and Terri Cross Davis emphasize the joy found in resistance and the joy family can bring (however individual students define “family”).
  • For the youth writers of Beacon House and Ballou High School, in partnership with Shout Mouse Press, amplifying personal narratives of pain and hope go hand-in-hand in Our Lives Matter and The Day Tajon Got Shot, collective texts sharing powerful messages of resistance.
  • Paul Butler focuses the conversation on the criminal justice system and his experience as a former federal prosecutor in Let’s Get Free.
  • Simba Sana’s memoir Never Stop recounts both his upbringing in DC in the ’70s and ’80s and his navigation of identity, faith, and American culture.
  • Writer William Jones, founder of the Afrofuturism Network, explores that representation of Black superheroes and heroines in comic book history in The Ex-Con, Voodoo Priest, Goddess, and the African King from social, political, and cultural perspectives. 

Writers were asked to reflect on and adhere to the thirteen guiding principles for the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in order to participate: diversity, globalism, Black women, Black villages, loving engagement, restorative justice, collective value, empathy, queer affirming, transgender affirming, unapologetically black, Black families, and fostering intergenerational ties.

Black Lives Matter is a non-violent peace movement that examines injustices that exist at the intersections of race, class and gender, including issues of poverty, mass incarceration, homophobia, unfair immigration laws, and access to healthcare. BLM Week of Action in DC area schools is sponsored by the DC Area Educators for Social Justice and Teaching for Change

Don’t miss our upcoming Literary Conversations!

February 12, 2019
What Was, What Is, and What Will Be: A Cross-Genre Look at Afrofuturism
Featuring: Tananarive Due, NK Jemisin, & Airea D. Matthews
7:30pm at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Cultural critic Mark Dery coined the term “Afrofuturism” in his essay “Black to the Future,” and its meaning has expanded to encompass alternative visions of the future influenced by astral jazz, African-American sci-fi, psychedelic hip-hop, rock, rhythm and blues, and more. Join us as we delve into the genre with three of its most highly acclaimed writers: Tananarive Due, N.K. Jemisin, and Airea D. Matthews. This Literary Conversation is co-sponsored by Folger Shakespeare Library’s O.B. Hardison Poetry Series, and The Library of Congress’s Center for the Book and Poetry and Literature Center.

Tickets can be purchased here! *TICKETS ALMOST SOLD OUT*

Can’t get enough Afrofuturism? The reading at the Folger will be preceded by a moderated conversation with all three writers at the Library of Congress! This event is *free* and will take place at 4pm. More information can be found here.

March 10, 2019
Fantastic Women
Featuring: Lesley Nneka Arimah, Kelly Link, and Carmen Maria Machado
7pm at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation & the National Museum of Women in the Arts present “Fantastic Women.” Join us in celebrating the work of Lesley Nneka Arimah, Kelly Link, and Carmen Maria Machado, women writers who all use elements of the fantastic in their work, often in ways that allow them to explore crucial themes (power, sexuality, identity, the body) without the constraints imposed by strict realism. These authors play with the boundaries of time and space through short stories and novels, and use their writing to push back against the traditional boundaries of women’s fiction. The Fantastic Women event will be an unforgettable night of engaging dialogue and conversation, and we hope to see you there!

Tickets on sale now!

Tickets to Beyond La Frontera On Sale Now!

Don’t miss out on this especially timely conversation featuring award-winning Mexican American writers Jennifer Clement and Luis Alberto Urrea. On January 14th, we will hear from these prolific writers as they discuss relevant issues such as immigrant narratives, the epidemic of gun violence, and the xenophobic sentiment facing Mexican immigrants in the United States today. Both authors have a thread of activism woven through their work, Clement through her writing on hidden women and the far-reaching arm of human-trafficking, and Urrea in his stories of the border, a space where narratives have traditionally been overlooked.

This conversation will be moderated by award-winning news anchor and reporter Maria Hinojosa. Use discount code PFFrontera for 20% off tickets! bit.ly/pfbeyond

 

Apply to Join Our Faculty for the Summer Youth Writers Camp!

PEN/Faulkner is hiring faculty for our Summer 2019 Youth Writers Camp!

The PEN/Faulkner Youth Writers Camp is an 8-day intensive creative writing academy for high schools students entering 9th-12th grade and recent graduates. Under the guidance of writing faculty, youth writers participate in a variety of writing activities, workshops, field trips, electives, and craft discussions in a supportive atmosphere that values risk taking as an important part of the writing process. Participants also receive one-on-one personalized feedback from instructors.

We are looking for two types of applicants: current MFA/PhD in Writing students or recent MFA/PhD in Writing graduates who matriculated within the past two years AND non-traditional writers of fiction, prose, and poetry.

Recognizing the institutional and systemic barriers to receiving an advanced degree in the arts, PEN/Faulkner strives to receive applications and to hire from both traditional pathways into a writing career (i.e. the MFA) and non-traditional pathways. We also believe that by providing instructors from a variety of backgrounds and pathways into the field, youth writers will recognize that there is more than one way to pursue a career in the arts.

To view the complete job description, including application instructions, read here.

The application deadline is March 15, 2019. 

 

 

 

What We Read and Loved in 2018

Not surprisingly, we’re a staff of book lovers and voracious readers. We asked around our office for the best book our staff and interns read this year. While this list doesn’t always include books published in 2018, we hope you’ll find something new to pick up, or to re-read, as we dive headfirst into the new year.

 

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor

This was a year of reading nonfiction and re-reading beloved novels. However, Leila Slimani’s brilliant, fast-paced The Perfect Nanny is a standout of tight narrative writing, controlled point-of-view shifts, and an emotional undercurrent that veers from horrified to empathetic and back again. The novel, which won France’s Prix Goncourt, is set in contemporary Paris, where the dynamics of class, feminism, and immigration come together around the character of Louise, a thin, doll-like nanny notable for her racial identity (she’s a white, French citizen) and her uncanny devotion to the family for whom she works. Louise’s maniacal perfection in all things domestic and childrearing comes under increasing strain as her financial desperation and decades of subservience to many masters—her late husband, landlord, and the creditors among them—escalate to a devastating climax. Slimani successfully weaves together expectations of womanhood and motherhood with dynamics of class, all set against whispers of terrorism, immigration, and a changing society in this forceful novel that I consumed in one sitting. – Lacey N. Dunham, Writers in Schools  

 

My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki

Ozeki’s novel is the captivating tale of Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American trying to make it in the TV industry as a producer of a new show, My American Wife!. The catch? The show she is directing is centered around “perfect” American families and the meat industry. As Jane maneuvers her way around her misogynist bosses, she is constantly finding herself making difficult decisions involving the meat industry and the not-so-perfect families. Jane’s commitment to transforming the show makes an impact on someone she would never have suspected, ultimately leaving her to decide between her career and her heart.

The voice of the protagonist is witty, sarcastic, yet lovable. Readers will be completely invested in what is going to happen not only to Jane, but to all of the people that she inspires along the way. It’s the first book I’ve read that manages to combine both American and Japanese voices and to expose the meat industry, combined with a deeper narrative about love, betrayal, brutality, and inspiration. – Caroline Evashavik, Media and Development

 

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

As a creative writing student, I read a lot of books over the course of the school year. While many of these book are written by revered authors, it’s contemporary writer Carmen Maria Machado who wrote the best book I read in 2018, Her Body and Other Parties. This collection of short stories tells of the woes, hardships, and celebrations that women (and their bodies) face in their daily lives.

What makes Her Body and Other Parties different from any other short story collection? First, they aren’t set in one genre. Machado flawlessly flips from fantasy to sci-fi to comedy to horror. You truly don’t know what you’ll get with each turn of the page, which makes you want to read on if only to find out what else is in store. These stories aren’t of the typical “women’s” genre of fiction. That’s to say: they aren’t stuck in the heteronormative cycle so many women’s stories seem to be in. There’s a raw sexual quality to how Machado writes about womenno demure sugarcoating here. It’s a book that I believe all lovers of fictionor writing in generalshould read for craft’s sake, and one that everyone should read for their own good. –  Elizabeth Phan, Literary Events

                                                                                      

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Originally published in 1984, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is one of the greatest novels ever written. A bit dramatic of claim, but I can’t say this of any other novel that I’ve read. Written in Czech and translated into English, the novel moves between characters and geographical locations with ease, highlighting the intricacies of human relationships. Centered on the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Kundera portrays the impact of war within Czech society.

Kundera’s prose skillfully incorporates dialogue and character interactions with philosophical reflections. He begins with a discussion of Nietzsche’s idea of “eternal return,” which prepares the reader for the later events of the novel. He details the opposing sides of the argument: whether everything we experience happens an infinite number of times, or, if our lives happen only once, our experiences are deemed insignificant, carrying no weight. The narrator ponders which perspective is better, raising the question of lightness or weight. As you might have guessed from the title, each of the characters reach a decision on this argument by the time the story concludes.

While some writers might become bogged down by such a heavy topic, Kundera’s eloquent prose makes for an easy read. Give The Unbearable Lightness of Being a try on your next lazy Sunday, and it might just become one of your all-time favorite novels too. – Mary Berset, Literary Events

 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a typical romantic comedy. It’s a captivating love story that also provides an intriguing insight into the world of “crazy rich” Asians.  Nicholas Young was born into a world of wealth, secrecy, and deep familial values; Rachel Chu is the daughter of a single mother who immigrated from China years ago. The two fall in love, but when Rachel is thrown into the world of rampant gossip and guarded secretsall with the trappings of truly opulent wealthshe begins to feel brutally rejected by Nick’s friends and family. Kevin Kwan uses more sarcasm and wit than expected from a traditional romantic comedy to portray both what it’s like to fall in love with someone from a different class and the personal lives of the super rich.  –Yevette Smith, Writers in Schools

 

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I started reading this book after I binge-watched the TV series and learned that there’s a lot more to story than is shown in the HBO series. After putting it off for close to a year, I picked up the books back in June and have been hooked ever since. For the first time since reading the Harry Potter series I fell into the excitement of a new mythical world. Reading the books has developed my understanding of each character on a deeper level, and I appreciate even my least favorite characters a little bit more. Martin provides captivating details that are easy to look past in the show. I found myself unable to put it down! – Laura Sincage, Writers in Schools

 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

After reading Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, I was interested to explore his other works. A thought-provoking dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go appeals to a broad range of age groups. I have always been interested in dystopian fiction, but this novel explored the dystopian in a new way. The novel’s melancholy tone builds the slow reveal of this dystopian universe in a way that feels eerie. The absurdity of this universe is buffered by its supposed focus on humanity, innocence, and mortality, and allows the story to transcend the boundaries of genre to create a timeless coming-of-age novel with a moral imperative.

Given our current state of social and political chaos, this not-so-distant world offers readers a mental exercise in perspective and a reminder of the most basic principles of humanity. Never Let Me Go’s foundation in the dignity of life makes it relatable and a necessary read, and adolescent love and passion is considered seriously as a basis of human connection. – Emily Herman, Development and Media

 

Happy Holiday Reading!