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Jade Chang wins VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for ‘The Wangs vs. the World’

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Jade Chang's debut novel, “The Wangs vs. the World,” tells the story of an immigrant family whose sudden loss of a cosmetics empire and their home sends them on a road trip across America where they discover what endures as a family and within themselves. (Jade Chang photo credit: Teresa Flowers)

Jade Chang has won the 2017 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, which honors an outstanding debut novel published during a calendar year. Her winning book, “The Wangs vs. the World,” published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, tells the story of an immigrant family whose sudden loss of a cosmetics empire and their home sends them on a road trip across America where they discover what endures as a family and within themselves.

Chang will receive the award Nov. 16 at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she will give a reading and participate in a roundtable and discussion with VCU students and the public. The event will be held in the Cabell Library Lecture Hall (Room 303) at 7 p.m. For additional details, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu/event/. Chang was one of three finalists for the prize, now in its 16th year. The other finalists were Chad Dundas for “Champion of the World” and Margaret Wappler for “Neon Green.”

The “Wangs vs. the World” is a twist on two quintessentially American stories — the road trip and the rags-to-riches immigrant tale. Chang’s outstanding debut novel opens with patriarch Charles Wang’s fall from grace: His once mighty cosmetics empire now belongs to the bank, along with the family’s beautiful Bel Air mansion and everything in it. His trip across the country is not a quest, but a journey to collect his teenage children dumped from elite schools they can no longer afford and to seek refuge at his daughter’s home on the opposite coast.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Charles, his second wife Barbra, and his three children. Charles is brash and impulsive, Barbra bitter and withdrawn. High schooler Grace is a successful style blogger, college student Andrew dreams of being a comedian, and eldest daughter Saina is a successful Manhattan artist now in hiding at a rambling house in the Catskills after a show that offended the entire art world.

According to the selection committee, Chang writes with humor and an eye for the ridiculous. She manages to do the important work of exploring identity and upending Chinese-American stereotypes while deftly dissecting the disastrous financial crisis of 2008. Both hilarious and heartrending, “The Wangs vs. the World” tells the story of a family scraped clean of everything they hold dear, and their brave scramble to salvage their lives.

A New York Times Editor’s Choice and also chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2016, “The Wangs vs. the World” received critical acclaim. The Atlantic wrote that Chang “goes for broke with a comic ending that showcases the reconciliation of a father and his children, of dreams and reality, of Old World and New.” NPR called the debut novel “unrelentingly fun, but it’s also raw and profane — a story of fierce pride, fierce anger, and even fiercer love.” The New York Times said: “In Chang’s compassionate and bright-eyed novel, she proves that struggling with [Chinese-American] identity can at least be funny and strange, especially when you struggle together with family.”

The VCU Cabell First Novelist Award celebrates the VCU M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program’s yearlong novel workshop, the first in the nation and one of the few still in existence. The winning author receives a $5,000 cash prize. Travel expenses and lodging are also provided for the author, her agent and her editor, who will attend an evening of events that focus on the creation, publication and promotion of this year’s winning novel.

The Cabell First Novelist Award is presented on behalf of VCU’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program. Sponsors include the James Branch Cabell Library Associates, VCU Libraries, the VCU Department of English, Barnes & Noble @ VCU and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

More than 100 novels were submitted for this year’s prize. A universitywide panel of readers in addition to members of the Richmond community reduced the list to 12 semifinalists and ultimately three finalists. The finalists were then considered by a panel of judges consisting of Angela Flournoy, winner of the 2016 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award for “Turner House”; Hasanthika Sirisena, associate fiction editor of West Branch magazine and author of the short story collection “The Other One”; and Yelena Akhtiorskaya, recipient of the Posen Fellowship in fiction and author of the novel “Panic in a Suitcase.”

In addition to Flournoy, previous winners of the award have included Boris Fishman for “A Replacement Life,” Helene Wecker for “The Golem and the Jinni,” Ramona Ausubel for “No One Is Here Except All of Us,” Justin Torres for “We the Animals,” David Gordon for “The Serialist,” Victor Lodato for “Mathilda Savitch,” Deb Olin Unferth for “Vacation,” Travis Holland for “The Archivist’s Story,” Peter Orner for “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo,” Karen Fisher for “A Sudden Country,” Lorraine Adams for “Harbor,” Michael Byers for “Long for This World,” Isabel Zuber for “Salt,” and Maribeth Fischer for “The Language of Good-bye.”

The deadline for the 2017 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award is Sept. 14 for books published January through June 2017. For books published July through December 2017, the deadline is Jan. 14, 2018. For more information, visit www.firstnovelist.vcu.edu.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 225 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Seventy-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The VCU Health brand represents the health sciences schools of VCU, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.