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The First Novel Prize

Announcing the 2021 First Novel Prize Shortlist

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We are pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2021 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. These seven titles were selected from the longlist featuring twenty-seven debut novels with U.S. publication dates between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021. Alexander Chee, Susan Choi, Yaa Gyasi, Raven Leilani, and Dinaw Mengestu made up this year’s judging panel.

The First Novel Prize, first awarded in 2006, was created to honor the best debut fiction of the year. The winner receives a $15,000 prize, with each of the other shortlisted authors receiving $1,000.

We congratulate the shortlisted authors, listed alphabetically by last name below.

The seven finalists will introduce actors they have selected to read from their novels and celebrate their achievement with the wider literary community and its supporters at The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Fête on Friday, December 3rd. The winning novel will be announced at The Center’s Annual Awards Benefit and 200th Anniversary Celebration on Tuesday, December 7th.

About the Shortlisted Authors

  • Priyanka Champaneri © Lauren Brennan - paperback

    Priyanka Champaneri

    Priyanka Champaneri

    Priyanka Champaneri received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University and has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts numerous times. She received the 2018 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for The City of Good Death, her first novel.

    Photo Credit: Lauren Brennan

  • Linda Rui Feng credit Anastasia Brauer

    Linda Rui Feng

    Linda Rui Feng

    Born in Shanghai, Linda Rui Feng has lived in San Francisco, New York, and Toronto. She is a graduate of Harvard and Columbia Universities and is currently a professor of Chinese cultural history at the University of Toronto. She has been twice awarded a MacDowell Fellowship for her fiction, and her prose and poetry have appeared in journals such as the Fiddlehead, the Kenyon Review, Santa Monica Review, and Washington Square Review. Swimming Back to Trout River is her first novel.

    Photo Credit: Anastasia Brauer

  • Honoree Jeffers by Sydney Foster

    Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

    Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

    Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the 2020 collection The Age of Phillis, which won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry and was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry and the PEN/Voelcker Award. She was a contributor to The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward, and has been published in the Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, and other literary publications. Jeffers was elected into the American Antiquarian Society, whose members include fourteen U.S. presidents, and is Critic at Large for Kenyon Review. She teaches creative writing and literature at University of Oklahoma.

    Photo Credit: Sydney Foster

  • Violet Kupersmith credit Adriana De Cervantes

    Violet Kupersmith

    Violet Kupersmith

    Violet Kupersmith is the author of the short story collection The Frangipani Hotel. She previously taught English with the Fulbright program in the Mekong Delta and was a creative writing fellow at the University of East Anglia. She has lived in Da Lat and Saigon in Vietnam, and currently resides in the United States.

    Photo Credit: Adriana De Cervantes

  • patricia_lockwood new cropped 2 (c) Grep Hoax high res

    Patricia Lockwood

    Patricia Lockwood

    Patricia Lockwood was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana and raised in all the worst cities of the Midwest. She is the author of the novel No One Is Talking About This, a 2021 Booker Prize finalist, and the memoir Priestdaddy, which was named one of the ten best books of 2017 by the New York Times Book Review, and two poetry collections, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, a New York Times Notable Book. Lockwood’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New Republic, and the London Review of Books, where she is a contributing editor.

    Photo Credit: Grep Hoax

  • Jackie Polzin

    Jackie Polzin

    Jackie Polzin

    Jackie Polzin lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband and children. Brood is her first novel.

    Photo Credit: Travis Olson

  • Kirstin Valdez Quade_2020(c)Holly_Andres_52_Final

    Kirstin Valdez Quade

    Kirstin Valdez Quade

    Kirstin Valdez Quade is the author of Night at the Fiestas, winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize. She is the recipient of a “5 Under 35” award from the National Book Foundation, the Rome Prize, and the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. Her latest book is The Five Wounds. Originally from New Mexico, she now lives in New Jersey and teaches at Princeton University.

    Photo Credit: Holly Andres