Photo via MOADSF.

Ethiopian-American author and 2019 Caine Prize finalist Meron Hadero has been announced winner of Restless Books’ 2020 New Immigrant Writing in the category of fiction for her unpublished collection of short stories Preludes. 

Administered by Brooklyn-based publishing house Restless Books, the New Immigrant Writing Prize annually awards $10,000 cash prize to “a first-time, first-generation immigrant author, alternating yearly between fiction and nonfiction.” Winners will also see their winning projects published by Restless Books.

On Hadero’s Preludes, the judges, which included Dinaw Mengestu, Achy Obejas, and Ilan Stavans, said:

With enormous power and wonderful subtlety, Meron Hadero grants us access to the inner worlds of people at moments when everything is at risk. In the stories that make up Preludes, the emotional stakes are high. In “The Suitcase,” on her first-ever visit with family in the city of her birth, a young woman finds herself paralyzed by the pressure of bridging the distance between relatives who left and those who stayed. In “Kind Stranger,” a woman on a brief return visit to Addis Ababa—Hadero’s characters are usually out of place, struggling to move backward or forward to a place that resembles home—is waylaid on the street by a man with a terrible burden to relieve.

Often the material stakes are breathtakingly high, too: A street sweeper who pins his hopes on a smooth-talking NGO employee; the residents of a village who, displaced by drought, fill their pockets with seeds and set out on foot for somewhere with water.

That closeness to the edge—of safety, of the known and being known—will resonate with all of us whose lives have been marked by border-crossings, whether by choice or, more likely, because of complex political and environmental forces far beyond our control. As we enter a future that will be shaped more and more profoundly by such border crossings, these sharp, humane, beautiful portraits are a gift.

Meron Hadero was born in Addis Ababa and moved to the US as a child. She has had stories published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Ploughshares, Zyzzyva, Addis Ababa Noir,The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, New England Review, as well as Best American Short Stories. Her short story “The Wall” was shortlisted for the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing. She is a A 2019-2020 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University and has received fellowships from Yaddo, Ragdale, and MacDowell. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.

Here’s how Meron Hadero described her winning collection Preludes:

“Set across the U.S. and abroad, Meron’s short story collection Preludes features characters who are immigrants, refugees and those facing displacement. Appearing in Best American Short Stories, “The Suitcase” is about a young woman who visits her country of origin for the first time and finds that an ordinary object opens up an unexpected, complex bridge between worlds. Shortlisted for the Caine Prize, “The Wall” takes place in Iowa and portrays the intergenerational friendship between two characters who’ve been refugees with connections to Germany ahead of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A Best American Short Stories notable, “Mekonnen aka Mack aka Huey Freakin’ Newton” is a coming-of-age narrative about an Ethiopian immigrant in Brooklyn encountering nuances of race and identity in his new country, while “A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times” tells the story of two refugee women bonding as they explore American cuisine as well as the unfamiliar expectations of their lives in New York. “The Life and Times of the Little Manuscript & Anonymous” examines the price and pull of freedom. Along with these, the other stories in the collection follow characters navigating contexts that challenge their understanding and assertion of self as they seek new ways to belong.

Find out more about the book, including an excerpt here.