The National Book Foundation Names Assistant Professor Anelise Chen Among ‘5 Under 35’
October 22, 2019
The list is released annually during the foundation’s run-up to November’s National Book Awards. It recognizes “five fiction writers under the age of 35 whose debut work promises to leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape.”
“Our 2019 5 Under 35 honorees are new authors of extraordinary promise, but their debut books are remarkable achievements for writers at any stage of their career,” said David Steinberger, chairman of the National Book Foundation’s board of directors.
Published in 2017, So Many Olympic Exertions is part memoir, part sports writing, and part self-help book. It tells the story of a graduate student, Athena Chen, who has recently learned a friend has died by suicide and the emotional journey that follows.
About So Many Olympic Exertions, Chen told Vulture Magazine, “I think I was suffering from what others have called novel nausea, or the sudden inability to read ‘made up’ stuff. I was drawn to two things at the time: watching sports and reading diaries. SMOE was the weird slurry that resulted from what I was consuming back then. A diary is this raw, unfiltered space, and you can be there in real time with a mind as it struggles to process something, some event that just occurred, some idea, some ungraspable emotion. That struggle really interests me. Then I started noticing that there was a natural pattern and flow to these diaries, how there were ‘conventions’ to the form as well. I’m still interested in blending fact and fiction. I wrote something resembling a fake diary with SMOE, but my next book will probably be an autobiography written as a fairy tale.”
Chen was selected for this list by National Book Awards finalist Dana Spiotta, who said she selected it because, “Anelise Chen writes with gorgeous precision and brilliant wit. Her elliptical, subversive, and stylish novel builds moments of doubt and failure into something beautiful: a modern (but tender and true) rendering of our human condition.”
Of the book, Publishers Weekly wrote, “The current of the narrator’s thoughts and obsessions holds the fragmented, stop-and-start narrative together. Formally unique and inventive, this novel fluctuates in tone, reading at some times like an authentic and unfiltered private journal and at others like a deeply researched academic essay. Often it flows organically into meditative territory, while combining images in a manner reminiscent of the work of authors such as W.G. Sebald or Ben Lerner. This ambitious book is sure to appeal to fans of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?—it similarly challenges the expectations regarding the rules a novel ought to follow.”