Josh Weinhold | March 24, 2019
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, an assistant professor of English at Notre Dame, has been named a finalist for the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the country’s largest peer-juried prize for novels and short stories.
The honor is for Van der Vliet Oloomi’s second novel, Call Me Zebra, which follows a young heroine as she leaves New York and retraces the path she took with her father from Iran to the United States. Literature is at the heart of the novel — the protagonist, Zebra, considers books central to her identity, has personal literary theories, and at times literally devours certain pages of books.
“I’m deeply honored to be a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award,” she said. “After seven years of writing in near-complete solitude, of working through what it means to be from the Middle East in our contemporary world and of considering the emotional and psychological impact of losing and searching for home, it feels incredibly fulfilling to see Call Me Zebra — a book about books — find its place in the literary landscape at large.
“I’m grateful to the judges for reading Call Me Zebra with such careful consideration and will be celebrating being a finalist of such a prodigious prize for a long time to come.”
A trio of judges considered more than 400 novels and short story collections from American authors. Other finalists for the award are Blanche McCrary Boyd (Tomb of the Unknown Racist), Richard Powers (The Overstory), Ivelisse Rodriguez (Love War Stories), and Willy Vlautin (Don’t Skip Out on Me). The winner will be announced April 29, with all five finalists being honored at a May 4 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Call Me Zebra received a host of strong reviews — including being deemed “ferociously intelligent” by the New York Times Book Review and a “filthy love note to literature unabashedly luxuriating in its bookishness” by the LA Review of Books.
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