Imbolo Mbue has won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for her debut novel, Behold the Dreamers (Random House, 2016). She will receive $15,000, and will be honored at a ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. on May 6. The annual award is given for a book of fiction published during the previous year.
“Behold The Dreamers displays a remarkable confidence impressive for a debut novel,” says Chris Abani, who judged the prize along with Chantel Acevedo and Sigrid Nunez. “Imbolo Mbue has a fine ear for dialogue and the nuance of language. Without ever leaning into sentimentality and yet managing to steer clear of cruelty, she pushes her characters through true difficulties into a believable and redemptive transformation. Behold The Dreamers reveals a writer with a capacious imagination, and the warmth and compassion to craft a career of beautiful and important novels.”
Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon, and currently lives in New York City. Mbue was one of the five featured authors in Poets & Writers Magazine’s 2016 roundup of the summer’s best debut fiction; read an excerpt of Behold the Dreamers in “First Fiction 2016” and listen to Mbue read the excerpt in episode eight of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.
The finalists for the prize, who each receive $5,000, were Viet Dinh for After Disasters (Little A), Louise Erdrich for LaRose (HarperCollins), Garth Greenwell for What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Sunil Yapa for Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Little, Brown). The finalists were selected from almost five hundred novels and story collections submitted by 143 publishers.
Established in 1981, the PEN/Faulkner Award has also been given to James Hannaham, Karen Joy Fowler, E. L. Doctorow, Ann Patchett, John Updike, and Sherman Alexie, among others.