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National Book Foundation unveils this year’s ‘5 Under 35' picks

An author photo of Akwaeke Emezi for her book “Freshwater.” Credit: Elizabeth Wirija
Akwaeke Emezi, whose debut is the novel “Freshwater.”
(Elizabeth Wirija)

The National Book Foundation revealed its annual “5 Under 35" honorees on Monday, celebrating five young authors who have published a debut work of fiction in the past five years, all selected by prior National Book Award winners and finalists.

The 2018 honorees are Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Hannah Lillith Assadi, Akwaeke Emezi, Lydia Kiesling and Moriel Rothman-Zecher.

This year’s class of authors includes two writers with roots outside the United States: Emezi, who was born in Nigeria, and Rothman-Zecher, a native of Jerusalem.

Emezi is the author of the novel “Freshwater” and was selected for the 5 Under 35 honor by Carmen Maria Machado, the author of “Her Body and Other Parties.” Reviewing “Freshwater,” Times critic at large Susan Straight praised Emezi’s “startling” prose depicting a fractured self.

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One California author made the cut this year: Kiesling, author of the debut novel “The Golden State.” She was selected for the 5 Under 35 honor by Samantha Hunt. Kiesling, who lives in San Francisco, told Ron Charles of the Washington Post that her novel was inspired by her family in northeastern California. “The past few times I’ve gone, I’ve been struck by the feeling of melancholy I have about it,” she said. “It just seems like a changed place.”

Rothman-Zecher’s novel, “Sadness Is a White Bird,” follows a young man preparing to serve in the Israeli army, and his friendship with two Palestinian Muslim twins. He was selected for the award by Bill Clegg.

Syracuse University professor Adjei-Brenyah made this year’s list for “Friday Black,” a short story collection, selected for the award by “The Underground Railroad” author Colson Whitehead.

Two of this year’s 5 Under 35 honorees are published by independent presses: Emezi, whose book was released by Grove Atlantic, and Assadi, whose 2017 novel “Sonora” was published by Soho Press, and was selected for the honor by author Claire Vaye Watkins.

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Three of this year’s honorees celebrated the news on Twitter.


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