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Literary Laureates: An Indian and a Pakistani American Among Finalists for the 2022 National Book Awards

Literary Laureates: An Indian and a Pakistani American Among Finalists for the 2022 National Book Awards

  • Sarah Thankam Mathews’ debut novel “All This Could Be Different,” is listed in the fiction category, while Sabaa Tahir’s “All My Rage” is chosen for the Young People’s Literature section.

Two South Asian Americans are among the finalists for the 2022 National Book Awards announced on Oct. 4. The five finalists in each category — Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature — were selected by a distinguished panel of judges, and were advanced from the Longlists announced in September. They were chosen from a total of 1,772 books submitted this year.

Listed in the fiction category is Sarah Thankam Mathews’s debut novel “All This Could Be Different,” which tells the story of a young queer immigrant who creates a community for herself while grappling with the oppressive demands of capitalism. Sabaa Tahir’s “All My Rage,” about a working-class Pakistani American family from their origins in Lahore to their present-day life running a motel in Juniper, California, is among the books selected in the Young People’s Literature section. 

Mathews, who grew up in Oman and India, immigrated to the United States at age 17. The Indian American’s work has been published in AGNI, SSENSE, and Best American Short Stories. She was a 2020 Margins Fellow at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the recipient of a Rona Jaffe fellowship at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

“All This Could Be Different” has received praise from publications and writers alike. Emma Spector of the Vogue calls it a “bold and wide-ranging novel” which “sets its sights on what it really means to be ‘okay’ . . . [asking] questions that have consumed innumerable 20-somethings . . . Mathews expertly captures and elevates the position of being a young queer person in the post-recession U.S. with many more questions than answers.” According to David Vogel of Buzzfeed, Mathews’ “writing is funny, incisive . . . This book gave me a lot to ponder, but ultimately left me hopeful.” 

Sanjena Sathian, author of “Gold Diggers,” calls the book “an exquisite debut,” and describes Mathews as “a completely original voice that is, by turns, fierce, witty, musical, poignant, and, yes, deeply sexy.”

Tahir is the New York Times bestselling author of the “An Ember in the Ashes” series, which has been translated into over thirty-five languages. She grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing “An Ember in the Ashes” while working nights as a newspaper editor. 

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The Pakistani American has been a professional author since 2015 and a journalist before that. Her books have sold more than a million copies worldwide. They are New York Times and international bestsellers and have been honored by TIME Magazine on a list of the 100 best fantasy books of all time. Her work has appeared on numerous best books of the year lists.

Winners will be announced live on Wednesday, Nov.16 at the invitation-only 73rd National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, in person at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, and broadcast live for readers everywhere. Two-lifetime achievement awards will also be presented as part of the evening’s ceremony: Art Spiegelman will be recognized with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, presented by Neil Gaiman, and Tracie D. Hall will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Winners receive $10,000 and a bronze medal and statue; finalists receive $1,000 and a bronze medal; winners and finalists in the Translated Literature category will split the prize evenly between the author and translator.

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