How diverse is your bookshelf? Literature can serve as a prime opportunity to learn about different cultures, consider a different worldview, or see your own family represented in the pages. To do those things, though, a key step is to seek out writers with diverse backgrounds.
The New American Voices Award, created in 2018 by the Institute for Immigration Research and George Mason University’s annual literary festival Fall for the Book, is seeking to bolster some of those authors by creating a spotlight on literature about immigrants. The annual award is a post-production award for fiction, seeking out fresh perspectives about the topic of immigration and the themes surrounding it. Submissions must be written by immigrants or by the children of immigrants.
“I am so pleased that now, in its fifth year, the Institute for Immigration Research New American Voices Award, has attracted such a number and range of talented authors,” says Jim Witte, director of the Institute for Immigration Research. “The Institute’s mission is to highlight and humanize the immigrant experience and this is exactly what this year’s three finalists have accomplished.”
Patrcia Engel, whose novel Infinite Country (a New York Times bestseller about a young family immigrating from Colombia to the United States) won the 2021 award, served as one of the three judges this year. The other two judges included Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men, and Huan Hsu, author of The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China.
Together, the three judges evaluated the entries and came up with three finalists: Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo, Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreases, and The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad.
The finalists will be honored and the winner will be announced during the Fall for the Book festival, in a ceremony at the Fairfax campus on Thursday, October 13. The first-place winner will receive a prize of $5,000 and the other two finalists will each receive a $1,000 prize.
“Truthfully, they all could’ve been the winner because they were all excellent, and we loved them all for different reasons. [The three finalists] were all books that were accomplishing great things on their own terms,” Engel says. “They’re very unique, each of them, but they’re sort of defined by great storytelling, impeccable language and just beautifully crafted.”
Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo
This collection of short stories takes on a multitude of perspectives and settings around the world, telling the stories of South Asian immigrants and their families, focusing most intimately on the ways that women experience immigration — both in the leaving, and in the staying. Engel describes it as “extremely brave, but at the same time tender and full of nuance. It really gets into the dynamics of a family and their experience in diaspora.”
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades
This is an eclectic coming-of-age novel with Queens, New York as the backdrop. As a group of five young women grow up in the city, they each face the matter of their immigrant backgrounds in different ways. The novel, written in first-person, shifts between the perspectives of each of the girls, creating a complex, nuanced, and personal image of their lives.
The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad
In this debut novel, the protagonist has to return to his birthplace, the red-light district in Lahore, with orders to cover up a young girl’s death. While there, he comes face-to-face with his past and has to grapple with family ties to decide where his loyalties lie. It’s a crime-thriller full of introspection and contextualized through Pakistan’s history.
For more stories like this, subscribe to our Education newsletter.