“The Overstory,” by Richard Powers, has been named one of five finalists for the $15,000 PEN/Faulkner Award, America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction. Powers’s ambitious environmental novel tells several intertwined stories about people devoted to trees. The Washington Post chose “The Overstory” as one of the 10 best books of 2018, and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Powers, a MacArthur “genius” who has published a dozen novels, is well known for his cerebral stories related to various scientific fields, including “The Echo Maker,” which won a National Book Award in 2006.
Here are the other four finalists named Tuesday by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation in Washington:
● “Tomb of the Unknown Racist,” by Blanche McCrary Boyd, is about a woman looking for her long-lost brother in the violent American subculture of white supremacy. This is the final novel in the Blacklock Trilogy, which began with “The Revolution of Little Girls” (1991).
● “Love War Stories” is the first book by Ivelisse Rodriguez. The collection, begun two decades ago, focuses primarily on Puerto Rican women and girls dealing with cultural expectations and intergenerational conflict.
● “Call Me Zebra,” by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, is about a bookish Iranian woman in New York who travels back to Europe to honor her late father and solve the problems of the universe.
● “Don’t Skip Out on Me” is by musician Willy Vlautin, a member of the Portland, Ore., band the Delines. This novel, his fifth, is about a lonely ranch hand who hopes to become a professional boxer.
“This year’s finalists are proof that we are living in an age in which tremendous, significant stories are being told by a multiplicity of unique voices,” said Gwydion Suilebhan, who became the executive director of PEN/Faulkner in January. He was previously the director of brand and marketing for Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington.
The judges for this year’s prize are Percival Everett, Ernesto Quiñonez and Joy Williams. They considered more than 400 novels and story collections published by Americans in 2018.
In a statement released Tuesday, the judges wrote: “In a time when our leaders are telling us that our lives don’t matter, that language exists only to convey misinformation, we found all entrants speaking loudly, eloquently, and timelessly, reaffirming us that our lives do. Our finalists were chosen for their genuine and emotional possession of an American narrative that includes us all, beyond walls or any lines.”
The winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award will be announced April 29. All five authors will be honored at the PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony on May 4 at Arena Stage. Tickets ($95) can be purchased online at pfaward19.eventbrite.com.
Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.