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The National Book Foundation’s 2013 5 Under 35 Award Ceremony

The National Book Foundation has been honoring 5 writers under the age of 35 since 2006 with the aim to “highlight the work of the next generation of fiction writers.” This year boasts all female winners, the first time since the award’s inception in 2006. Hosted at Powerhouse Arena bookstore in Brooklyn, New York on Monday, November 18th, the 5 Under 35 Awards event celebrates this year’s honorees and kicks off National Book Awards week.  Each honoree is selected by a previous winner of the National Book Award. The event was a collection of editors, writers, bloggers, and literati. There were tacos, cocktails, a lovely, sturdy tote bag with treats for attendees, all to the musical backdrop provided by author and DJ Colson Whitehead.

“Save a book, kill a tree!” said Portlandia star, musician, and book lover, Carrie Brownstein jokingly in her master of ceremonies speech, wondering how trees suddenly have it so good, and books so bad. Brownstein introduced this year’s pack of winners imagining that instead, the award was for five writers who wrote a book in under 35 hours, describing an imaginary hilarious marathon-style writing contest. “I pictured thousands of participants at the starting line…there would be sustenance along the route: water, coffee, Adderall, alcohol, therapists standing by, therapy dogs standing by for the emotional support that we can’t get from human beings…”

See Brownstein’s full introduction speech below:

This year’s winners:

  • Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans,  W. W. Norton, February  2014, selected by Jesmyn Ward
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names, Reagan Arthur Books / Little, Brown, May 2013, selected by Junot Díaz  
  • Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist, Harper 2012, selected by Louise Erdrich
  • Daisy Hildyard, Hunters in the Snow, Jonathan Cape Ltd, July 2013, selected by Kevin Powers
  • Merritt Tierce, Love Me Back, Doubleday, Fall 2014, selected by Ben Fountain

After all five women read selections from their books, they were interviewed by previous 5 Under 35 winner Fiona Maazel, author of Last Last Chance and Woke Up Lonely. Much of the conversation explored what it feels like to be young and new in the writing world, what motivates them to write, and negotiating the private space of writing versus the very public process of promoting their books. “I’ve just started to talk about my book, and I love it,” grinned Antopol.

All of this year’s winners have very different backgrounds, ranging from Merritt, a mother of two from Dallas, to Hildyard, a Yorkshire, England native who’s working to get her PhD in scientific language, to Bulawayo, born and raised in Zimbabwe.  They all provided insight for not only to fledgling writers, but to writers of all ages. When the group was asked about what gives them the right to write so excellently while so young, 34-year-old Tierce responded, “Performing authority before you’ve earned it…that’s necessary to keep writing.”

Illustration of Merritt Pierce by Last  Night's Reading

Illustration of Merritt Tierce by Last Night’s Reading

Hildyard responded, “Sometimes you think you’re a god…sometimes you think you’re a giant baby.”

Maazel inquired about how they feel about writing now that they’ve got a book published (or soon to be published in Atopol’s and Tierce’s cases), and Bulawayo said, “I was freer before I wrote this book because I didn’t know what I was doing.” The other writers confessed that, while they were obviously pleased that their books were published and selected for this prestigious award, they now have less time to write.

Frankly, one of my favorite things about this event other than honoring new talent, spying authors and editors I admire, or the photobooth, is I get 5 new titles to add to my “to read” stack and excellent book recommendations to give out to friends. And these authors aren’t going anywhere. When asked what else they like to do, Amanda Coplin laughed that she didn’t like doing much of anything else, “I don’t have any other skills. …I can be like that old barista who is bad.”

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