5 Under 35: Neat as Hell

1. What a room. 2. Colum McCann gives it to us straight.

Last night, the National Book Foundation celebrated this year’s 5 Under 35 at the powerHouse Arena in DUMBO, Brooklyn. ‘How do you get to be a 5 Under 35?’ you might wonder, because that sounds neat as hell. It is, and if the 2010 recipients are the model, you do something like this: be naturally worldly by birth and upbringing, maybe get your MFA in creative writing or maybe don’t, put brilliant words to paper either way, win a handful of coveted and illustrious literary prizes, and then have an already-worshipped writer like Colum McCann pick you as one of literature’s youngest and brightest stars. No big deal.

Don’t forget to be modest and charming in person, as all of this year’s 5 were last night. The afterparty was the first order of business, or so it felt as powerHouse filled with people in spirits like they were already coming from somewhere fun. NBF, clever folk that they are, installed a bar on both levels of powerHouse’s duplex set-up, and they let the crowd sufficiently hydrate before the official program was underway.

1. Google-proof Steve of W. W. Norton and Dustin of McNally Jackson & WORD. 2. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum preps the crowd.

The way it works: the 5 are selected by five National Book Award winners and finalists. Yesterday, those NBA authors introduced their golden pick, and each pick read from his or her work. Event host singer-songwriter-bookwriter Rosanne Cash introed the NBA line-up and, speaking about writing, gave some advice we could all use: “I knew I could be good at it if I put my mind to it, so I put my mind to it.” (Maybe easier done when your last name comes with a boatload of talent genes, but a still a fortune cookie keeper.)

1. BOMB’s Paul Morris and EL’s own Scott Lindenbaum behaving. 2. Paul Yoon signing autographs.

The 5 did their best to ruffle our feathers. Sarah Shun-lein Bynum introduced Sarah Braunstein as a writer who can say something poignant that is at the same time “hot and dirty,” and Braunstein delivered with a squirmy passage from her novel The Sweet Relief of Missing Children. Scott Spencer introduced Grace Krilanovich, who upped the ante with a passage from The Orange Eats Creeps about squatters-cum-party-goers (or maybe it was the other way around) whose griminess oozed off the page. Colum McCann’s pick was Téa Obreht, whose forthcoming novel The Tiger’s Wife I must have. And she’s 25 (or 24 with a December birthday), so let the collective wave of inadequate feeling roll into shore. Soon-to-be-mom Tiphanie Yanique, introduced by Jayne Anne Phillips, read from a short story about a jailed thief whose mother is a cop. Hard to say if it was the lyrics of the story, or the melody of her voice, or that her skin was so actually luminous — I’ve heard oh, right, pregnancy glow, but this was it, live and in person — but she was mesmerizing, and then Paul Yoon (picked by Kate Walberg) drove it home with a reading from something new and great.

1. Grace Krilanovich reads from her quote messy unquote novel The Orange Eats Creeps. 2. Téa Obreht and Colum McCann.

Since the afterparty had already been had, the place didn’t stay full for long after the readings, but as other areas cleared, steady streams of fans moved in and out of the space around each of the 5 Under 35. McCann and Obreht chatted away while the NBF photographer, whose name I learned — I’m not kidding unless he was — is Beowulf, snapped on. Paul Yoon filled me on the ups (cheap) and downs (weird) of Baltimore, where he recently relocated. I met a guy from Norton Publishing whose name rhymes with pen and who initially refused to be a photo because he has a life goal of being un-Google-able. Well, sir, here at the Dish we’re all about supporting each other’s dreams. If someone can find you through the ambiguity of this post, then you’re on your own.

1. Actress Tzaddi Allick Simmons and soon-to-be-daddy Moses Yanique. 2. The luminous Tiphanie Yanique.

All in all, it was a good night for the NBF and its guests. As I was leaving, even the guy working the taco truck parked outside commented, “Fun party!”

–Kai Twanmoh lives and works in New York City. She is the author of nothing but dish! posts.

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