National Book Foundation honors assistant professor
Andrea Vale | Thursday, January 14, 2016
Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, an assistant professor in Notre Dame’s department of English and M.F.A program in creative writing, was recently named one of the 2015 National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35.”
The honor is given to notable young fiction writers, who are chosen by past “5 Under 35” honorees and National Book Award winners and finalists. Dinaw Mengestu, author of “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears” and a previous “5 Under 35” honoree, chose Van Der Vliet Oloomi for the award for her novel “Fra Keeler.”
According to the National Book Foundation’s website, “Fra Keeler” tells the story of a man who “purchases a house, the house of Fra Keeler, moves in and begins investigating the circumstances of the latter’s death. Yet the investigation quickly turns inward, and the reality it seeks to unravel seems only to grow more strange, as the narrator pursues not leads but lines of thought, most often to hideous conclusions.”
The Los Angeles Times called “Fra Keeler” a “stunning psychological thriller, a total identification with madness that creates drama without either belittling or romanticizing the insane.”
Van Der Vliet Oloomi said she received a phone call notifying her of the honor while en route to the airport to depart for Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, where she was teaching a master’s class.
“I had attended the Summer Writing Program at Naropa University when I was much younger,” Van Der Vliet Oloomi said in an email.
“I had gone there to study with some of my favorite writers, so it was incredible to receive the news right before returning to Naropa so many years later. I was delighted – it’s a privilege to have been selected as one of this year’s ‘5 Under 35’ honorees.”
According to a press release by the College of Arts and Letters, Van Der Vliet Oloomi was first honored, along with this year’s four other honorees, at the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” celebration Nov. 16 at the Power House Arena in Brooklyn, New York.
“The event was hosted by LeVar Burton and emceed by Ben Greenman of the New Yorker,” Van Der Vliet Oloomi said. “Each of the five honorees was introduced by the writer who selected them.”
The event kicked off the National Book Award celebrations. On Nov. 19, the honorees appeared at the Library of Congress, where they participated in a reading of their works and a panel discussion. In April 2016, the Miami Book Fair will also host the honorees.
According to her website, Van Der Vliet Oloomi is also a recipient of the 2015 Whiting Writer’s Award, a MacDowell Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship in Fiction to Spain. She is currently working on a novel titled “Taüt,” which she described as “a bizarre love story and the journey of a lifetime through the Western Mediterranean. It is a darkly comic novel that explores the relationship between literature, space and mortality from the point of view of a narrator who suffers from intense bouts of literature sickness.” Van Der Vliet Oloomi is currently on a year-long leave from Notre Dame but will return to campus to teach full time for the Fall 2016 semester.
“I would say that writing is always a process,” Van Der Vliet Oloomi said. “You think the process is going to end when you get this or that book published — you think that you will have arrived. But I’ve learned that writing is a life-long apprenticeship; there is no end point. That’s the beauty of it, but it is also what makes it utterly terrifying.
“That being said, winning an award is an incredible experience; it charges you with confidence and a sense of responsibility. It gives you the fuel to keep doing the hard work and putting yourself out there.”