October 2, 2014
National Book Foundation chooses 5 more under 35
by Mark Krotov
Earlier this week, the National Book Foundation opened the grand, hulking doors behind which lie the legendary Club 5 Under 35, and admitted five more writers past the bouncers, velvet ropes, and steel traps that protect the entrance from the incursion of anyone thirty-five years of age or older.
Okay, that’s not totally right. Much as it would be awesome, 5 Under 35 is not, in fact, an exclusive club, except maybe metaphorically. What it is, however, is a program designed to honor writers accomplished enough to have written great works of fiction, but young enough not to have been around to experience the thrilling days of the Gerald Ford administration.
The program, which has been around since 2006, calls on past National Book Award winners and finalists to select the author of a novel or collection of stories that has either been published recently, or which is forthcoming. And its batting average is pretty high. The first forty honorees include plenty of notable names like Karen Russell, Dinaw Mengestu, Charles Yu, Ceridwen Dovey, and Keith Gessen. Such names! And this year’s names are pretty great, too:
Yelena Akhtiorskaya, Panic in a Suitcase (Riverhead, July 2014)
Selected by Aleksandar Hemon, 2008 National Book Award Finalist for The Lazarus Project
Alex Gilvarry, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant (Viking, January 2012)
Selected by Amy Bloom, 1993 National Book Award Finalist for Come to Me
Phil Klay, Redeployment (Penguin Press, March 2014)
Selected by Andrea Barrett, 1996 National Book Award Winner for Ship Fever and Other Stories
Valeria Luiselli, Faces in the Crowd (Coffee House Press, May 2014)
Selected by Karen Tei Yamashita, 2010 National Book Award Finalist for I Hotel
Kirstin Valdez Quade, Night at the Fiestas (W.W. Norton & Company, March 2015)
Selected by Andre Dubus III, 1999 National Book Award Finalist for House of Sand and Fog
No clean female sweep this year, but still, compared to the terribly male-heavy nonfiction longlist, this is a balanced list. Another difference between the real awards and their younger cousin: the National Book Awards will not include an appearance by the great Questlove. 5 Under 35, on the other hand, has recruited him to host the ceremony, which will take place on November 17 at powerHouse Arena. Melville House author and New Yorker editor Ben Greenman will DJ.
This is all good news and good for literature, and honoring young writers is great. The absence of a real-life Club 5 Under 35, however, is truly tragic. Maybe next year.
Mark Krotov is senior editor at Melville House.