John Gardner Fiction Book Award

2019 John Gardner Fiction Book Award Winner

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi for Call Me Zebra from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Judge: Dante Di Stefano

"Endlessly astonishing, achingly erudite, and downright hilarious, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra begins as an exilic picaresque and ends as a fraught labyrinthine 21st century manual for reading literature and the world. Zebra, the novel’s orphaned Iranian refugee heroine, narrates her interior (and international) journey with an unforgettable blend of precocious brilliance and virtuoso impetuosity. Call Me Zebra, like its most prominent literary forebearer, Don Quixote, is a text that one could easily inhabit indefinitely. In On Moral Fiction, John Gardner noted: “True art’s divine madness is shot through with love: love of the good, a love proved not by some airy and abstract highmindedness but by active celebration of whatever good or trace of good can be found by a quick and compassionate eye in this always corrupt and corruptible but god-freighted world.” The divine madness of Call Me Zebra is similarly shot through with love; Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s bighearted novel is one that I will return to again and again, for its ambitious examination of grief, desire, youth, history, time, and the consolations and limits of a literary life. "

Gardner Award Finalists for 2019 (in alphabetical order):

  • Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah for Friday Black (Mariner Books)

  • Louisa Hall for Trinity (Ecco)

  • Alma Katsu for The Hunger (Putnam)

  • Wayétu Moore for She Would Be King (Graywolf Press)

  • C. Dale Young for The Affliction (Four Way Books)