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Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi's 'Call Me Zebra' Wins PEN/Faulkner Prize

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Each year, a small panel of writers gathers to talk about hundreds of books, and they choose just one for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. This year, it's the novel “Call Me Zebra."

And NPR's Colin Dwyer tells us about the author.

COLIN DWYER, BYLINE: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi felt adrift her senior year of high school.

AZAREEN VAN DER VLIET OLOOMI: I was really disillusioned with my sort of education - my high school education in general.

DWYER: An Iranian immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child, she felt unmoored and uninspired in the classroom. Then, she says, she discovered William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. And suddenly, her literary life lit up. So it seems apt that she should now win a prize named for Faulkner.

VAN DER VLIET OLOOMI: It feels really important to kind of have his name circle back into my life in this way.

DWYER: Her novel, "Call Me Zebra," swims in a sea of names - of authors, of places and theorists. Its narrator, an orphaned refugee from Iran, is obsessed with books. As she retraces the path she once took to the U.S., her journey blends a host of literary traditions.

There are similarities between the author and her character, but don't get caught thinking she's just like Zebra.

VAN DER VLIET OLOOMI: She's very sort of out there of the characters. I don't want to be too closely identified (laughter) but we definitely share a sense of humor, that's for sure.

DWYER: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi wins $15,000 with the PEN/Faulkner Award. That should help with her next project, which is already in the works.

Colin Dwyer, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.