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Last week, the National Book Foundation named Naima Coster ’08 one of their 5 Under 35 Honorees. 

Coster was selected for her 2017 novel “Halsey Street,” which focuses on a woman’s homecoming to her gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn and her struggle to reckon with changing family dynamics amidst the changed neighborhood landscape.

The 5 Under 35 prize was established in 2006 to recognize young, debut fiction writers whose first work promises to leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape. The honorees –– five writers under the age of 35 who published their first book of fiction within the past five years –– will be recognized at a virtual award ceremony this fall, where they will each receive a $1,000 monetary prize.

“The seed of the book came from an essay that I published … about class mobility and, after coming back from Yale, finding myself changed and also finding that my Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene had changed,” Coster said. “Some of the themes of that essay were what got me thinking about Halsey Street … which is really about a neighborhood and a family that have suffered tremendous losses and are in the process of being remade.”

Each 5 Under 35 Honoree was selected by an author who had previously been honored by the National Book Foundation. Coster’s nomination came from writer Tayari Jones — Jones’ own work was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award.

Coster said that she does not have a personal connection to Jones, but that she is “deeply honored” by the nomination, especially given how much she admires Jones’ work. 

“I’m thrilled for Naima,” said English professor Anne Fadiman, who taught Coster in her 2007 Advanced Fiction Writing seminar. “She was a subtle, nuanced writer with tremendous emotional sensitivity.”

Fadiman added that she went back through some of Coster’s pieces –– which she had kept on her computer –– after hearing about the award and was still captivated by their detailed descriptions.

Coster said she credits the creative writing classes she took at Yale for helping her become serious about writing professionally.

“I have always known in my bones that I wanted to become a writer, but I always hesitated,” Coster said. “Those experiences at Yale are part of what helped me stop kidding myself about how important writing was to me, and how I want it to be in the very center of my life.”

Director of creative writing Richard Deming said that the English department helps students develop a sense of craft and deepen their understanding of the writing tradition. He emphasized the importance of community and relationship-building within the department.

According to Deming, “so many” significant fiction writers have passed through Yale’s halls, including professor and 2019 National Book Award winner Susan Choi ’90 and Nobel prize winner Sinclair Lewis ’08. He added that this indicates how influential Yalies have been shaping and influencing the art of fiction.

“Ultimately, and this is a bit Romantic, I know, writing is more a calling than a profession, per se,” Deming said. “It takes a long time to find one’s way to that authentic voice and bring it from the private space of one’s mind into the public space of the page.”

Coster’s second novel, “What’s Mine and Yours,” will be released by Grand Central Publishing next March.


Julia Brown | julia.k.brown@yale.edu