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Exclusive: Here are this year's National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 honorees

Three short story collections, two novels and many stories of immigration, belonging and the American dream.
Chloe Chang, Andrew "FifthGod" Askaripour, David Cyprian Hicks
Ada Zhang, Mateo Askaripour and Chelsea T. Hicks are among the 5 Under 35.Courtesy Chloe Chang, Andrew "FifthGod" Askaripour, David Cyprian Hicks
/ Source: TODAY

The National Book Foundation announced its annual 5 Under 35 honorees on April 4. The list features a selection of five fiction writers “whose debut work promises to leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape,” according to the literary foundation.

This year’s group of authors produced three short story collections and two novels, which consider immigration, colonization, generational trauma, belonging and the American dream, among other topics. 

“We are grateful to this year’s selectors for reading widely and eagerly to recognize this cohort of five exceptional authors and their memorable debuts,” Ruth Dickey, executive director of the National Book Foundation, said in a statement given to “It is a privilege to spotlight these exciting new voices in contemporary fiction, and we look forward to celebrating their talent.”

To be considered eligible for the award, each honoree had to have published their first — and only — short story collection or novel within the past five years.

They were selected by a past National Book Award winner, finalist, or long lister, or by an author previously recognized by the 5 Under 35 program.

So who are this year’s five honorees? Keep reading to find out.

Mateo Askaripour, 'Black Buck'

Mateo Askaripour
Courtesy Andrew "FifthGod" Askaripour

Mateo Askaripour was writing in his Brooklyn apartment when he got a phone call from a random number.

“Whenever I’m working, I turn my phone off, so when I finished a writing session, turned it back on, and saw a voicemail from a random number, I thought, ‘These spam callers are leaving voicemails now? This is next level,’” he tells

To his surprise, the voice on the other end of the line was none other than Dickey, the executive director of the National Book Foundation. Askaripour couldn’t believe what he was hearing. 

“I cut the voicemail off halfway into it, paused to process the surreal news, then eventually replayed it later and realized that it wasn’t a prank,” he says.

To receive this prize from an organization “that works tirelessly to inspire readers, celebrate authors and create a new generation of writers” is something that the author doesn’t take lightly.

“In fact, it’s a reminder to keep going, for myself and for all of those who will come after,” he says.

A Read With Jenna pick, Askaripour's debut “Black Buck" centers around an unambitious 22-year-old, Darren, who is content working at a Starbucks, until he encounters a CEO of a tech start-up who invites him to join a sales team. Darren creates a plan to help young people of color infiltrate corporate America. 

The satire is inspired by being at creative rock bottom, Askaripour says. By reframing his intentions and mustering up some self-confidence, his debut novel was born.

“It was then I realized what I wanted to write: something true and searing; a work that would speak to the experience of millions.”

"So, I wrote this specific book to show anyone who has ever been the only one, or one of the few people who identified like them in an environment (workplace, institution of higher learning, sports team, etc.), that they’re not paranoid or overly-sensitive when they perceive something to be amiss in these places, because there so often is.”

Chelsea T. Hicks, 'A Calm & Normal Heart'

Courtesy David Cyprian Hicks

Chelsea T. Hicks wants to show the diversity of Indigenous women and eliminate the stereotypes associated with them.  

A member of the Osage Nation herself, the author tells she started her story collection “A Calm & Normal Heart” as a “last-ditch effort at writing” after a novel had been rejected by multiple publishers.

“The enormous difficulty of writing publishable work made me almost give up,” she says.  

But her perseverance led to this collection of 12 short stories, which follows contemporary Indigenous people in the United States who are all searching for their place in the world. These stories examine ancestral bonds, modern love, generational trauma and the meaning of belonging for young Native people living in a country with a complex history. 

With the book, Hicks imagined “taking someone by the lapels, metaphorically, to make them listen.”

“I just kept thinking, ‘I will mesmerize you. I am going to make you understand this. I am going to make this undeniable — and it’s going to be nothing of what you expect,’” she says.

Morgan Talty, 'Night of the Living Rez'

Morgan Talty
Courtesy Tin House

Morgan Talty was preparing a bottle for his 4-week-old son, Charlie, when he got the call notifying him he'd been selected for this award.

He tells he remembers “feeling so overwhelmed in a great way.”

“Sleep deprivation is a crazy thing, and for a moment I thought the call was a prank,” he says. “But no! It was a real call. When I hung up, I felt really proud and happy, both of which were amplified by Charlie yelping for me to bring him his food!”

For his collection of 12 short stories, “Night of the Living Rez,” Talty examines what it means to be Penobscot present day and what it means to survive and persevere after tragedy. Set in a Native community in Maine, the stories explore families as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future.

Talty says he was inspired by “a deep curiosity about what it means to love the difficult people in our lives, what it means to care for the marginalized family and friends instead of leaving them behind.”

“I was driven to write a book about what it means for us to love better,” he says.

Jenny Xie, 'Holding Pattern'

Jenny Xie
Courtesy Cheryl Chan

Jenny Xie’s book, “Holding Pattern,” was a way for her explore intimacy, connection and authenticity.

She tells she wrote her book as a way to examine her relationship with her mother, which she calls a “dense, complicated knot.”

“I wanted to create two imperfect characters whose intense love for each other forced them to collide, again and again, over their vast differences — differences that are a consequence of immigration, which is in some ways the ultimate expression of parental love,” she says.

Her novel follows a mother-daughter duo who live together after the daughter is forced to start over. The daughter’s new job and the unexpected revelations that follow push the pair’s relationship to the brink, and they peel back the layers of their history. 

Xie calls this award “an unbelievable honor” and says she is humbled and grateful for this recognition.

“Any book, published at any age, is a miracle — a product of community, perseverance, and luck — and to celebrate this feels like another kind of magic,” she says. “I’m so thankful to get to tell this story.”

Ada Zhang, 'The Sorrows of Others'

Ada Zhang
Courtesy Chloe Chang

For Ada Zhang, receiving this honor at an early stage of her career as a writer means a tremendous deal.

“So many writers I admire have received this prize in the past, and have gone on to have illustrious careers,” she says. “I hope this is a sign that I’m on the right path. It certainly encourages me to keep writing.”

Her collection of 10 short stories, “The Sorrows of Others,” captures the lives of young and old in the generations after the Cultural Revolution in both China and America. It explores people confronted with being outsiders not only as revolutionaries and immigrants, but also within their very own families.

“My book is inspired by the simple living that we do daily, and by the common joys and common sorrows shared between people,” she says. “The human spirit, for me, is an endless source of inspiration. I write to try and know it better.”