Earlier this month, Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers won her the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award, making her the first African author to do this. Imbolo Mbue will be honoured on May 6 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington.
The $15,000 award, given by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, prides itself as “America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction.” 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 other finalists will each receive $5,000.
An email invitation to the ceremony sent Brittle Paper by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation reiterates why Mbue’s debut novel is their choice. “Behold The Dreamers displays a remarkable confidence impressive for a debut novel,” said Chris Abani, chair of the judges. “Imbolo Mbue has a fine ear for dialogue and the nuance of language. Without ever leaning into sentimentality and yet managing to steer clear of cruelty, she pushes her characters through true difficulties into a believable and redemptive transformation. Behold The Dreamers reveals a writer with a capacious imagination, and the warmth and compassion to craft a career of beautiful and important novels.”
The event’s $100 ticket, which will include a full dinner, can be purchased online or by phoning the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077.
Imbolo Mbue became famous when the manuscript for Behold the Dreamers, then titled The Longings of Jende Jonga, earned her a $1 million advance from Penguin Random House. 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 the PEN/Faulkner organisation.
The honored book, Behold the Dreamers, covers remarkable ground: the struggle of immigrants longing to become American citizens, the stark divide between rich and poor, and the global financial crisis that followed from the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The protagonists are Jende Jonga and his wife, Neni, Cameroonian immigrants living in New York City with their son. When Jende gets a job as chauffeur to an executive at Lehman Brothers, he believes his luck has been made. Even as he works his way through immigration court, Jende remains aggressively optimistic about the promise of America. But when Lehman Brothers declares bankruptcy, the things that make this country both blessed and doomed begin to show.
We are happy for Imbolo Mbue and wish her a career of similarly beautiful novels. Congratulations to her.