Lesley Nneka Arimah has been picked for the US National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” list of 2017, on the strength of her debut short story collection, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. She joins Dinaw Mengestu, in 2007, NoViolet Bulawayo, in 2013, and Yaa Gyasi, in 2016, among African writers to have been picked.
The National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” list recognizes five young debut fiction writers whose work “promises to leave an indelible mark on the literary landscape.” In line with their tradition in which a former winner or finalist for the National Book Award picks a new writer for consideration, Arimah was selected by Chris Bachelder, author of the National Book Award for Fiction finalist, The Throwback Special.
This year’s list is remarkable on two fronts, writes The Cut magazine: first, it is only the second time in the award’s 12-year history in which all the chosen writers are female, the first time being 2013; second, three of the five are women of colour. The other four women are: Halle Butler, for Jillian; Zinzi Clemmons, for What We Lose; Leopoldine Core, for When Watched; and Weike Wang, for Chemistry.
Speaking on the development, Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, stated:
At a moment in which we are having the necessary conversations surrounding the underrepresentation of female voices, it’s a thrill to see this list of tremendous women chosen organically by our selectors. These writers and their work represent an incredibly bright future for the world of literary fiction.
Here is what Arimah had to say on her inclusion:
It does feel as though more of us are being given our literary kudos, which is always a good thing. I think one of the things awards do is they direct attention to works and so I think it’s important who gets acknowledged, the idea of institutional acceptance, because it means more eyes are on the work.
This continues what has proven to be a brilliant year for her: Following the publication of What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky to critical acclaim, she won an O.Henry Prize for one of the stories, “Glory,” and then got on the Caine Prize shortlist with another story, “Who Will Greet You at Home?”—her second consecutive shortlisting, following her collection’s title story, “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky,” which made the shortlist in 2016.
Arimah’s story, “Light,” won the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa Region. She is the recipient of grants and awards from Commonwealth Writers, AWP, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Jerome Foundation. Her novel, The Children of Bones, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books.
When Dinaw Mengestu made the list in 2007 for The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, he was selected by Jess Walter, 2006 NBA Fiction finalist for The Zero. In 2013, NoViolet Bulawayo was selected for We Need New Names by Junot Díaz, 2012 National Book Award finalist for This is How You Lose Her. (It was Diaz, also, who published her Caine Prize winner, “Hitting Budapest,” as fiction editor at Boston Review). In 2016, Yaa Gyasi was selected for Homegoing by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015 National Book Award finalist for Between the World and Me (Coates also blurbed the novel).
Lesley Arimah and her fellow honorees will each receive $1,000 at an invitation-only event on November 13, 2017.
Congratulations to Arimah.
Read the full announcement HERE.
Buy What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky HERE.