Founded by Mexican immigrant Ilan Stavans, Restless Books has always believed passionately in the rich contributions immigrants have made to our culture and literature. Now in its second year, we're delighted to announce the finalists for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, to be awarded this year for a debut work of nonfiction by a first-generation immigrant. We've been bowled over by the keen insight and wide diversity of experience that these writers have boldly brought to the page. After careful deliberation, judges Anjali Singh and Ilan Stavans have selected four finalists:
2017 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing Shortlist
- King Leopold's Daughter, by Mona de Vestel
- Far from the Rooftop of the World, by Amy Yee
- The Body Papers, by Grace Talusan
- The Fifth Season, by Nikita Nelin
The winning writer will receive $10,000 and publication by Restless Books. Read more about these brilliant up-and-coming authors below, and stay tuned for the announcement of the winner!
—Anjali Singh, Ilan Stavans, and the Restless Books team
About the 2017 nonfiction Finalists
Mona de Vestel
An immigrant of mixed Belgian and Tutsi descent, Mona de Vestel grew up in Brussels and moved to the United States at the age of 13. After completing a degree in Arabic (Georgetown University) and a MFA in Creative Writing (Goddard College), she taught writing at the State University of New York (Oswego & Utica). In addition to teaching and writing, she has written and directed a one-woman show about healing from cancer and performed in a two-year production of Ping Chong’s Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo, a documentary theater piece about the history of the Congo.
Her memoir King Leopold’s Daughter is an exploration of the consequences of colonialism on her family in the context of the Belgian Congo, and is set in her native Belgium, Mexico, Congo and the U.S.
A first-generation child of immigrants from Hong Kong, Amy Yee is an award-winning American journalist, writer and poet based in India from 2006 to 2013. She was a correspondent for the Financial Times from 1999 to 2008 in New Delhi and New York. From South Asia she reported from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. As a freelance journalist, she has written for the New York Times, The Economist, NPR, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College, where she won the program’s Academy of American Poets prize, and an MS from Columbia University, and graduated magna cum laude with honors from Wellesley College. Since 2008, she has followed the lives of ordinary Tibetans: Thukjee, a monk and unlikely veterinary assistant; Ngawang, a cook and political refugee; Deckyi, a recent refugee and her husband Dhondup—whose lives painted a portrait of life beyond the the 50th year of Tibetan exile in 2009.
Far from the Rooftop of the World is a close-up look at the lives of ordinary Tibetans in exile who make their way in the world far from home, and also a window into what it was like to live among them in Dharamsala and to travel to other far flung places that became home. Their stories are told against the backdrop of milestones and events in Tibet’s recent history—some memorable, too many tragic—at home and in exile.
Grace Talusan was born in the Philippines and traveled with her parents to the U.S. when she was three years old. She earned an MFA from the University of California, Irvine and has published short stories, long-form journalism, book reviews, and essays. Last year, she traveled to the Philippines as a Fulbright Scholar and lived in Manila for the first time since immigrating. She also teaches writing at Tufts University and Grub Street.
The Body Papers uses documents, such as test results and legal certificates, as inspiration to explore themes of immigration, trauma, hereditary cancer, and survival in memoir.
Nikita Nelin was born in Moscow, Russia and immigrated to the U.S in 1989. His work has appeared in Tablet Magazine, Elephant Journal, Mission at Tenth, Electric Literature, and other publications.
The Fifth Season follows Nikita and his mother Natasha’s flight from the crumbling Soviet Union in November of 1989, three days before the Berlin Wall collapses, as they trek across Europe carrying everything they own. They are part of the last great wave of the Soviet Jewry migration and they are thrown into a world of awe, criminality, foreignness, anti-Semitism, and the wretched paranoia of their fellow refugees. For seven months they travel across Europe as their old world and its ideology complete its unraveling, scrounging for resources and subsisting primarily on a potent mix of improvisation and awe with which Natasha imparts their adventure.