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Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers has won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award and she is the first African author to do this. The Cameroonian’s debut novel beat competition from Viet Dinh’s After Disasters, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Louise Erdrich’s LaRose, and Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist—a shortlist that has been described as “a sign of new diversity in books.”

The $15,000 award, given by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, prides itself as “America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction.” In 2016, Julie Iromuanya’s Mr. and Mrs. Doctor was shortlisted.

Imbolo Mbue became famous when the manuscript for Behold the Dreamers, then titled The Longings of Jende Jonga, earned her a $1 million advance. The novel was named one of the best books of 2016 by several top publications, including The New York Times Book Review, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Guardian. Here is a description of the book by its publishers Penguin Random House.

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.
When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Mbue will receive her award on May 6 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. The other finalists will each receive $5,000.

On the judging panel is Chris Abani who, alongside Chantel Acevedo and Sigrid Nunez, considered about 500 novels and story collections published by Americans in 2016.

Congratulations to Imbolo Mbue! We are excited for her.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, academic, literary journalist, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Transition, and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted. His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna. Find him at otosirieze.com.

2 Responses to “Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers Makes Her the First African to Win the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction” Subscribe

  1. Agoziem 2017/04/06 at 14:35 #

    Congrats to Imbolo Mbue. Cheers!!!

  2. Agoziem 2017/04/06 at 14:37 #

    Oh Imbolo Mbue! I actually drink to this…

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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