The jury is comprised of one Aspen Institute stakeholder, a literary scholar or social scientist, an Aspen Words stakeholder, and two notable authors who have written fiction that aligns with the goals of this prize. They will read the twenty longlisted titles and determine the five finalists and the winner. The longlist will be determined by a preliminary Selection Committee.
2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury
Writer and feminist Dorothy Allison is the author of “Bastard Out of Carolina,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award and became an award-winning movie. Her second novel, “Cavedweller,” was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, won the Lambda Literary Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the Lillian Smith Prize. It was also adapted for the stage and screen. A new novel is forthcoming from Viking Penguin. A past member of the Board of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and of the boards of both PEN International and Feminists for Academic Freedom, Allison has taught and been a writer in residence at numerous universities and is a contributing editor to Tin House. She was born in Greenville, South Carolina, and makes her home in Northern California, where she and her partner were married the day before California passed proposition eight.
A graduate of Yale University, Suzanne Bober worked as a magazine and book editor in New York City. She is the co-author of the Mini Masters series of art books for very young children. Ten years ago, Suzanne relocated to Aspen, Colorado with her husband and three sons. She is currently President of the Aspen Words Advisory Board and has held various roles on the Aspen Words Executive Committee over the last seven years. Suzanne is a longtime board member of the Aspen Education Foundation, for which she serves on the Executive Committee.
Elliot Gerson is an executive vice president at the Aspen Institute, responsible for its policy programs, public programs, and relations with international partners. The Institute’s more than 30 policy programs provide neutral venues to do nonpartisan analysis, foster candid dialogue among leaders, advocate new policy, and promote best practices. Public programs, including the Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen Words, the Aspen Program in the Arts, and the Socrates Seminars open its doors to broader audiences. Gerson also administers the US Rhodes Scholarships. He previously practiced law, was a US Supreme Court clerk, held executive positions in government and on a presidential campaign, was president of health care and education start-ups, and led two national insurance and health care companies. He has served on many nonprofit boards, especially in the arts.
Farah Jasmine Griffin is the Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies and the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University. She is also Affiliate Faculty of the Center for Jazz Studies. Professor Griffin received her B.A. from Harvard, where she majored in American History and Literature and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. She has published widely on issues of race and gender, feminism, jazz, literature and cultural politics. Griffin is the author of five books, including her most recent work, “Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II.” Griffin collaborated with the late composer, pianist, Geri Allen and director, actor S. Epatha Merkerson on two theatrical projects, which were performed at the Apollo Theater, the Harlem Stage and The John F. Kennedy Center. Her essays and articles have appeared in Essence, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar, Art Forum and numerous other publications.
Samrat Upadhyay was born and raised in Nepal. His short story collection, “Mad Country,” was a finalist for the 2018 Aspen Words Literary Prize. His other books include “The City Son,” which was shortlisted for a PEN Open Book Award; “Arresting God in Kathmandu,” winner of the Whiting Award; “The Royal Ghost”; “The Guru of Love,” a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year; and “Buddha’s Orphans.” He has written for The New York Times and has appeared on BBC Radio and National Public Radio. Upadhyay teaches in the creative writing program at Indiana University..
The Selection Committee is responsible for narrowing down the total submissions to create the longlist.
In 2018 Douglas Farrar joined the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where he directs media outreach and Congressional affairs. He previously was Assistant Director of Public Affairs at the Aspen Institute and former Associate Publisher of IDEAS: The Magazine of the Aspen Institute. Prior to that, he was Senior Associate at the Aspen Institute Congressional Program and before coming to the Institute, Douglas worked from 2007 until 2012 in the U.S. House of Representatives as a communications and policy adviser to two members of Congress including a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
A fourth generation Washingtonian, Douglas graduated from Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in 2005 with a B.A. in International Politics and in 2012 earned his Master’s Degree in Social and Public Policy from Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies after completing his thesis on the role of earmarks in the legislative process. He is the co-author of the memoir, A Song to My City: Washington DC and the grandson of John Farrar, co-founder of the storied publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is an avid reader of fiction and his favorite book is Stoner by John Williams.
Ploi Pirapokin’s work is featured in Tor.com, Apogee Journal, The Bellingham Review, Cleaver Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and more. She has received grants and fellowships from the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Creative Capacity Fund, the Headlands Center for the Arts, Ragdale Foundation, Kundiman, and others. She holds an MFA in Fiction from San Francisco State University and is based in San Francisco.
Dinah Zeiger has never felt quite comfortable calling herself a journalist, but she worked for more than 20 years as a reporter, editor and/or copy editor for wire services and daily newspapers, including The Denver Post, The Wall Street Journal-Europe, McGraw Hill Online News, and as Washington news editor and London bureau chief of Knight Ridder’s financial wires CNS and Unicom, which taught her how to be an attentive and responsive listener and reader. That training served her well when she decided, late in life, to return to school. Building upon a BA in English from the University of Missouri and an MA from the University of Colorado in Art History, she earned a PhD in Communications with an emphasis on rhetoric, after which she taught for several years. Since retirement, Zeiger has been archiving the papers of the Western States Arts Federation, one of the NEA’s six regional arts agencies.