Noor Naga, Wole Soyinka honoured at Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize 2022

Noor Naga and Wole Soyinka were honoured at the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize 2022 awards on December 6, 2022.

The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize is an annual award presented by The Center for Fiction, a non-profit organization in New York, USA since 2006. It recognizes the year’s best debut novel as selected by a panel of distinguished American writers and carries with it an award of $15,000. Previous winners include De’Shawn Charles Winslow, Tiphanie Yanique, Junot Diaz, Margaret Wrinkle, and Raven Leilani.

This year’s judges were Matt Bell, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Megha Majumdar, Rebecca Makkai, and Chigozie Obioma. They announced a longlist on July 28 before the shortlist was made public on September 28 before If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga (Graywolf Press) was declared the winner.

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English takes place in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, when an Egyptian-American daughter of immigrants, nostalgic for the country she’s never lived in, falls in love with a man she meets in Cairo. He was a photographer of the revolution, but is now addicted to cocaine and living in a shack. When their relationship takes a violent turn, the fallout exposes the gaps in American identity politics and reexamines the faces of empire.

Noor Naga is an Alexandrian writer who was born in Philadelphia, raised in Dubai, studied in Toronto, and now lives in Cairo. Apart from her debut novel If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English, she is also the author of the verse-novel Washes, Prays. Naga teaches at the American University in Cairo.

Also honoured was Wole Soyinka with The Center for Fiction Lifetime of Excellence in Fiction Award. To mark the occasion, he appeared in conversation with The Center for Fiction’s Board Chair Erroll McDonald.