5 Under 35

The National Book Foundation’s annual “5 Under 35” celebrates five books of fiction by five writers under the age of thirty-five. As most people know, thirty-five is the minimum age for a President of the United States. To the Founding Fathers, with their limited life expectancy, thirty-five years seemed sufficient time to accrue the experience necessary to be Chief Executive of this fledging nation. In our contemporary society, where forty is the new twenty, thirty-five still seems awfully young. It’s hard to imagine electing a thirty-five-year-old President. (People were worried about Obama’s experience and he is 47. He is also a terrific writer who wrote Dreams from My Father when he was under 35. But I digress.) Still, the 5 Under 35 celebration is a reminder that one should never underestimate youth. Mary Gaitskill said the title story in One Story author Nam Le’s astonishingly good collection, The Boat, would be extraordinary if it had been written by a fifty-year-old author, and that the fact that Nam was just twenty-six when he wrote it makes it all the more remarkable. There is no doubt that writing is hard, and that with experience and practice, most writers’ work does get better. But some writers do their best work long before 35. The work of the five writers feted at Tribeca Cinemas last night already displays such wisdom and maturity that one can’t help but feel that 35 is an arbitrary age to define the cut-off between young and, well, less young. How relevant is age when it comes to confidence and authority on the page? It’s exciting to imagine what this year’s 5 Under 35 will write in the next thirty-five years or so. In the meantime, buy the books they have already written. Each of the five young writers is always selected by a previous National Book Award Fiction Finalist or Winner. Here are the 5 Under 35 for 2008, who were introduced by the writers who selected them: Matthew Eck, The Farther Shore. (Selected by Joshua Ferris, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Then We Came to the End.) Keith Gessen, All the Sad Young Literary Men. (Selected by Jonathan Franzen, 2001 National Book Award Winner for The Corrections.) Sana Krasikov, One More Year. (Selected by Francine Prose, 2000 National Book Award Finalist for Blue Angel.) Nam Le, The Boat. (Selected by Mary Gaitskill, 2005 National Book Award Finalist for Veronica.) Fiona Maazel,  Last Last Chance. (Selected by Jim Shepard, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Like You’d Understand, Anyway.)

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