We are pleased to announce that debut novels by Chia-Chia Lin, Julia Phillips, Pitchaya Sudbanthad, Ocean Vuong, Joe Wilkins, Lauren Wilkinson, and De’Shawn Charles Winslow are shortlisted for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize! The finalists will read from their books and celebrate their achievement with the wider literary community at the First Novel Fête on December 9, 2019, to be held at the Center’s downtown Brooklyn location. The following evening, we will present the award to the winner at the Center’s Annual Benefit and Awards Dinner in New York City. Judges this year are Maaza Mengiste, Claire Messud, Tommy Orange, Emma Straub, and Monique Truong.
The First Novel Prize, launched in 2006, was created as part of our literary nonprofit’s central mission to promote the art of storytelling and help further the careers of new writers. This annual prize carries a $10,000 cash award. Each of the other shortlisted authors will receive a $1,000 award. Learn more about the First Novel Prize.
Titles are listed alphabetically by author.
By Chia-Chia Lin
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
A searing debut novel that explores community, identity, and the myth of the American dream through an immigrant family in Alaska. With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Lin explores the fallout after the loss of a child and the way in which a family is forced to grieve in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately more profound, reality.
By Julia Phillips
Published by Knopf
In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer’s virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel brings us to a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before. Spellbinding, moving—evoking a fascinating region on the other side of the world—this suspenseful and haunting story announces the debut of a profoundly gifted writer.2 .
Bangkok Wakes to Rain
By Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Published by Riverhead Books
A missionary doctor pines for his native New England even as he succumbs to the vibrant chaos of nineteenth-century Siam. A post-World War II society woman marries, mothers, and holds court, little suspecting her solitary fate. A jazz pianist in the age of rock, haunted by his own ghosts, is summoned to appease the house’s resident spirits. Time collapses as these lives collide and converge, linked by the forces voraciously making and remaking the amphibious, ever-morphing capital itself. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is an elegy for what time erases and a love song to all that persists, yearning, into the unknowable future.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
By Ocean Vuong
Published by Penguin Press
Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling. With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.4 .
Fall Back Down When I Die
By Joe Wilkins
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Wendell Newman, a young ranch hand in Montana, has recently lost his mother, leaving him an orphan. His bank account holds less than a hundred dollars, and he owes back taxes on what remains of the land his parents owned, as well as money for the surgeries that failed to save his mother’s life. A gripping story set in a fractured and misunderstood community, Fall Back Down When I Die is a haunting and unforgettable tale of sacrificial love.
By Lauren Wilkinson
Published by Random House
It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. …when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Inspired by true events—Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”—American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance.6 .
In West Mills
By De'Shawn Charles Winslow
Published by Bloomsbury
Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.