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What kind of fiction is eligible for this prize?

The Aspen Words Literary Prize (AWLP) is a $35,000 annual award for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.

A vital contemporary issue is a problem that influences a considerable number of individuals within a society. It is often the result of factors extending beyond an individual’s agency, requiring the consideration of society as a whole to confront or solve the issue.

A work of fiction that illuminates an issue such as this will use the power of storytelling to engage readers with a societal problem that may or may not affect them directly. Contemporary issues that might be addressed include, but are not limited to: socioeconomic inequality, environmental degradation, immigration, racial inequality, violence and war, gender inequality, mental illness, and political identity. Though the piece of fiction does not have to be set in contemporary times, it should provide historical context that helps to increase understanding of current social issues. The work may confront these issues blatantly, or in a subtler manner. It is up to the discretion of the AWLP Selection Committee and Jury to determine which works of fiction are most effective in achieving the stated goals of the prize.

Examples of contemporary authors whose recent fiction aligns with the goals of this prize include: Louise Erdrich, Zadie Smith, Akhil Sharma, Roxane Gay, Phil Klay, Annie Proulx, Colson Whitehead, Jesmyn Ward, Alice Walker, Peter Ho Davies, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, and Ruth Ozeki.

If you are a publisher and have questions about submitting a work of fiction, please email literary.prize@aspeninstitute.org.