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The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize shortlist

September 29, 2022 Special from The Center for Fiction
The Center for Fiction opens today in Fort Greene, joining other big-name cultural institutions like BAM and the Mark Morris Dance Group. Photos courtesy of the Center for Fiction
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We are pleased to announce the shortlist for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize. These seven titles were selected from the longlist featuring twenty-four debut novels with U.S. publication dates between January 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022. This year’s judges are Matt Bell, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Megha Majumdar, Rebecca Makkai, and Chigozie Obioma.

The shortlisted authors are listed alphabetically by last name below.

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Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades
Penguin Random House / Random House
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Simon & Schuster
NSFW by Isabel Kaplan
Macmillan / Henry Holt and Company
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga
Graywolf Press
Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej
Bloomsbury Publishing
Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
W. W. Norton & Company / Liveright
The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara
W. W. Norton & Company
The First Novel Prize, first awarded in 2006, was created to honor the best debut fiction of the year. The winner receives a $15,000 prize and each of the other shortlisted authors receives $1,000. The shortlisted authors will be celebrated at the First Novel Fête on Friday, December 2, 2022 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 6, 2022 at The Center for Fiction Annual Awards Benefit.

Brown Girls
This tenderly observed, fiercely poetic love letter to a modern generation of brown girls follows a group of friends in Queens, New York as they attempt to reconcile their immigrant backgrounds with the American culture in which they come of age. Their conflicting desires of ambition and loyalty, freedom and commitment, adventure and stability risk dividing them in this striking exploration of female friendship told in a chorus of unforgettable voices.




The School for Good Mothers
One lapse in judgment lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance, in this harrowing yet darkly witty story about the expectations of perfection in motherhood. The mother’s quest to prove her devotion to her daughter exemplifies the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another.




In this story about the gray area between empowerment and complicity, a young woman struggles with how much she is willing to compromise her feminist values as she navigates around sexism, harassment, and assault while building a career for herself in Hollywood. Her toxic relationship with her mother, a renowned feminist attorney, whose own morals have been diluted from a lifetime of success in a male-dominated industry, both helps and harms her ambition as the personal and professional come to a head.




If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, an Egyptian American daughter of immigrants nostalgic for the country she’s never lived in falls in love with a man she meets in Cairo who was a photographer of the revolution, but is now addicted to cocaine and living in a shack. When their relationship takes a violent turn, the fallout exposes the gaps in American identity politics and reexamines the faces of empire.




Little Rabbit
A queer woman in the early stages of her writing career meets an older renowned male choreographer at a residency and begins a submissive relationship with him that confounds her social circle. The complicated sexual politics of their love story test the boundaries of lust, punishment, agency, and artistic drive in this darkly sensual take on a coming-of-age novel.




Big Girl
An eight-year-old girl in the rapidly gentrifying Harlem of the 1990s struggles to suppress her insatiable longing in the face of her mother’s conscription into diet culture, pressures to fit into a narrow definition of femininity, and her outsider status in a predominantly white Upper East Side prep school. When tensions at home culminate in a family tragedy, she is forced to finally face the source of her hunger on her own terms.



The Immortal King Rao
In a future in which the world is run by the Board of Corporations, a woman uses her access to her father’s memories to plead her case for a radical act of communion in the face of raging climate change. As she relays the story of her father’s life from growing up on a South Indian coconut plantation to changing the world with his wife in the United States, the novel examines how we arrived at the age of technological capitalism and where our actions might take us next.

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