The National Book Foundation announces its 2021 5 Under 35 Honorees

September 2021



The National Book Foundation today announced its annual 5 Under 35 honorees, a se­­lection of five fiction writers under the age of 35 whose debut work promises to leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape. Each honoree was selected by a National Book Award Winner, Finalist, or Longlisted author, or by an author previously recognized by the 5 Under 35 program. 5 Under 35 honorees are writers from around the world, under the age of 35, who have published their first book of fiction within the last five years.

“Each year, we take great pleasure in honoring five authors whose debut titles provide a first look at their exceptional talent as fiction writers,” said David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “Their remarkable books are an achievement, and it’s a privilege to welcome these authors into the National Book Foundation family and to ensure their work reaches an even wider audience.”

The 2021 honorees’ books include three novels, one collection of short stories, and, for the first time ever, a graphic novel. Within their captivating debuts, the authors reimagine history, and contemplate identity, race, and religion. The cohort has been honored by the Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize, the National Endowment for the Arts, the BBC National Short Story Award, the Pushcart Prize, and the Elizabeth George Foundation. Honorees’ work has been widely published, including by The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Granta, and Ploughshares.

“We are grateful to our knowledgeable selectors who read broadly with such insight and energy,” said Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “Our 16th cohort of 5 Under 35 honorees join a tremendous group of writers, and it is a joy to recognize debut work that displays such expert craft and beautiful storytelling. We look forward to sharing these important new voices with readers everywhere.”

This year’s 5 Under 35 selectors are 2020 National Book Award Finalist Rumaan Alam, 2020 National Book Award Longlister and 2016 5 Under 35 honoree Brit Bennett, 2017 National Book Award Longlister Charmaine Craig, 2021 and 2014 National Book Award Longlister and 1996 Finalist Elizabeth McCracken, and 2019 5 Under 35 honoree Bryan Washington. Their decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential.

Previous Honorees include Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Lesley Nneka Arimah, K-Ming Chang, Anelise Chen, Yaa Gyasi, Danielle Evans, Isabella Hammad, Lydia Kiesling, Raven Leilani, Johannes Lichtman, Valeria Luiselli, Fatima Farheen Mirza, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Karen Russell, Claire Vaye Watkins, Ashley Wurzbacher, Tiphanie Yanique, and C Pam Zhang, as well as National Book Award Finalists Akwaeke Emezi, Angela Flournoy, and Téa Obreht, 2014 National Book Award Winner Phil Klay, and 2020 National Book Award Winner Charles Yu.

The 5 Under 35 Ceremony has been moved permanently to the spring. The 2022 5 Under 35 honorees will be announced in Spring 2022, and both the 2021 and 2022 cohorts will be honored at an invitation-only ceremony in Spring 2022. 5 Under 35 is sponsored by the Amazon Literary Partnership. Each honoree will receive a $1,000 prize.

The 2021 5 Under 35 honorees are:

Caleb Azumah Nelson, Open Water
Black Cat / Grove Atlantic
Selected by Brit Bennett, 2020 National Book Award Longlist for Fiction, 2016 5 Under 35 honoree

Nathan Harris, The Sweetness of Water
Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Book Group
Selected by Charmaine Craig, 2017 National Book Award Longlist for Fiction

Lee Lai, Stone Fruit
Selected by Bryan Washington, 2019 5 Under 35 honoree

Claire Luchette, Agatha of Little Neon
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers
Selected by Elizabeth McCracken, 1996 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, 2014 National Book Award Longlist for Fiction, 2021 National Book Award Longlist for Fiction

Dantiel W. Moniz, Milk Blood Heat
Grove / Grove Atlantic
Selected by Rumaan Alam, 2020 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction