Khadija Abdalla Bajaber

Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s The House of Rust was declared the winner of the inaugural Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction on Friday, October 21, 2022.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929-2018) was a celebrated US-American author whose body of work includes 23 novels, 12 volumes of short stories, 11 volumes of poetry, 13 children’s books, five essay collections, and four works of translation. The breadth and imagination of her work earned her six Nebula Awards, seven Hugo Awards, and SFWA’s Grand Master, along with the PEN/Malamud and many other awards.

The Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction, started in honour of the celebrated author, is a prize given to a writer for a single work of imaginative fiction. This award worth $25,000 is intended to recognize those writers Ursula spoke of in her 2014 National Book Awards speech—realists of a larger reality, who can imagine real grounds for hope and see alternatives to how we live now.

The jury for 2022 comprised adrienne maree brown, Becky Chambers, Molly Gloss, David Mitchell, and Luis Alberto Urrea. This team announced a shortlist of titles by Sequoia Nagamatsu, Catherynne M. Valente, Cynthia Zhang, Matt Bell, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Olga Ravn, Darcie Little Badger, and Michelle Ruiz Keil.

The winner of the award Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s The House of Rust was announced in an event on Friday. In Bajaber’s debut novel, published by Graywolf Press, young Aisha sets out in the company of a talking cat and a boat made of bones to rescue her fisherman father. Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s debut novel is grounded in a vivid sense of place and the way she continuously expands both Aisha’s world and her understanding of it—a world of leviathans, snake gods, and crows whose sharp eyes are on everyone. The jury praised Bajaber’s transcendent writing and innovative, transporting story, saying: “Scene after scene is gleaming, textured, utterly devoid of cliché and arresting in its wisdom. The novel’s structure is audacious and its use of language is to die for.”

In her acceptance speech, Bajaber spoke about her admiration for Ursula K. Le Guin: “The heart, craft, and humanity with which Ursula K. Le Guin approached the unfamiliar and the strange makes her one of the most beloved storytellers to readers and writers alike. So it is my honor to see The House of Rust, published by Graywolf Press, recognized now by this prize. I hope to use this prize to further my craft, to better myself as a person as well, and to investigate different ways of telling a story. And I hope that you will see more strange worlds from me, and more strange worlds from many different kinds of writers.”