Josh Weinhold | May 1, 2019
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, assistant professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, has won the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the country’s largest peer-juried prize for novels and short stories.
Van der Vliet Oloomi has been so honored for her 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, and the protagonist, Zebra, considers books central to her identity and at times literally devours pages of books.
"'Call Me Zebra' represents an homage to the great writers of the past and present who have had the courage and intellectual stamina to think with their hearts about what it means to be human in a world where justice and equality remain scarce for so many," Van der Vliet Oloomi said. "Winning the PEN/Faulkner Award at such a delicate and trying juncture in our nation’s troubled history is an honor I am infinitely grateful to carry. It is, for me, a reminder from our mysterious universe that honest writing can allow us to speak humbly with one another, an intimation to love and to listen deeply each time I set pen to paper.”
She added: “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."
This year's judges — Percival Everett, Ernesto Quiñonez and Joy Williams — considered more than 400 novels and short story collections from American authors.
Read more here.