Our Story

Aspen Words was founded in 1976 as a literary center based in Aspen, CO. A program of the Aspen Institute, our mission is to encourage writers, inspire readers, and connect people through the power of stories. AW’s year-round programs include Summer Words, a writing conference; Winter Words, a speaker series presenting the best of contemporary literature; the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for fiction with social impact; as well as a writers-in-the schools program and writing residencies. 

Our History

In 1976, armed with little more than a lofty idea and enough charm to cajole local restaurant and lodge owners into donating food and housing, Kurt Brown, an ambitious young bartender and poet, launched the Aspen Writers’ Conference. What started as a two-week conference focused entirely on poetry soon blossomed into a month-long event encompassing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting, and featuring appearances by such lauded guests as Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky. Early on, daytime classes were held out of doors in the shade of aspen trees; evening lectures and readings took place in crowded living rooms or in barrooms around town––the only meeting spaces the conference could afford. Afternoon rain showers did nothing to dampen the communal spirit of conferees nourished by a heady brew of elevated language and spectacular mountain setting (not to mention other kinds of brew). In time, Brown’s literary compatriots saw an opportunity to extend programming to Aspen area youth.

Writers in the Schools and young writers programs were introduced, along with Winter Words, designed to sustain resident writers and readers during the long off-seasons and non-conference months of the year. Aided by a legion of donors, patrons, board members, community partners, and writers Aspen Words (AW) saw its audience base increase substantially over the next several years.

As our reputation for attracting the brightest stars on the international literary stage grew, the wider world began to take notice. In 2005, USA Today named Aspen Summer Words “a top 10 literary gathering.” In 2009, recognizing an overlap in mission and vision, AW merged with the Aspen Institute, vaulting the organization to new heights. A few years later, AW introduced its new leadership team of director Mo LaMee, hailed as one of Colorado’s top nonprofit executives, and the organization’s first-ever creative director, Adrienne Brodeur, a New York-based, award-winning editor and author. Under their expert guidance, new programs have been developed and existing programs strengthened.

AW has established a robust Writer in Residence program, providing space and time in a beautiful retreat setting for numerous talented writers to make significant leaps forward on their various projects. The writers have included a remarkable array of National Book Award finalists, New York Times bestsellers, award winning novelists, and poets. The community has also been the beneficiaries of their time with free readings and school visits, often providing a first glimpse at work that may their defining work. Additionally, through our Catch and Release program, hundreds of books authored by our Writers in Residence have been distributed for free in the community.
Recently AW made a strategic decision to spend more time and energy working in the Roaring Fork Valley schools. Extraordinary teaching artists have inspired area students in the Writers in the Schools program to investigate their own ideas and articulate their thinking through both the written and spoken word.

In addition, AW recently established the Aspen Writers’ Network to support the work, continued learning and community-building opportunities for local writers. We host monthly meetings with a variety of prominent speakers reflecting on their challenges and inspiration as they work to find a place in the rapidly changing literary landscape.
Today, many of the world’s most celebrated authors grace AW stages each year. Hundreds of aspiring writers participate in our workshops, an impressive number of which go on to see their work published. Aspen Words programs that aim to encourage writers, inspire readers and connect people through the power of stories annually impact thousands of individuals, youth and adults alike.

The Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most critical challenges facing communities at home and around the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

The Aspen Institute has earned a reputation for gathering diverse, nonpartisan thought leaders, creatives, scholars and members of the public to address some of the world’s most complex problems. But the goal of these convenings is to have an impact beyond the conference room. They are designed to provoke, further and improve actions taken in the real world.

Staff

In 1976, armed with little more than a lofty idea and enough charm to cajole local restaurant and lodge owners into donating food and housing, Kurt Brown, an ambitious young bartender and poet, launched the Aspen Writers’ Conference. What started as a two-week conference focused entirely on poetry soon blossomed into a month-long event encompassing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting, and featuring appearances by such lauded guests as Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky. Early on, daytime classes were held out of doors in the shade of aspen trees; evening lectures and readings took place in crowded living rooms or in barrooms around town––the only meeting spaces the conference could afford. Afternoon rain showers did nothing to dampen the communal spirit of conferees nourished by a heady brew of elevated language and spectacular mountain setting (not to mention other kinds of brew). In time, Brown’s literary compatriots saw an opportunity to extend programming to Aspen area youth.

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Staff

Adrienne Brodeur
Adrienne Brodeur
Executive Director
Caroline Tory
Caroline Tory
Managing Director
Elizabeth Nix
Elizabeth Nix
Program Manager
Mallory Kaufman
Mallory Kaufman
Events & Communications Coordinator
Madeline Lipton
Madeline Lipton
Program Coordinator
Ivy Chalmers
Ivy Chalmers
Program Coordinator
Athena Pentcholov
Athena Pentcholov
Program Assistant

Creative Council test

Julie Barer
Julie Barer
Partner at The Book Group
Emily Bernard
Emily Bernard
Acclaimed Author & Professor
Tina Chang
Tina Chang
Poet Laureate of Brooklyn
Grant Faulkner
Grant Faulkner
Acclaimed Author & Literary Executive
Courtney Gillette
Courtney Gillette
Acclaimed Author & Professor
Alia Hanna Habib
Alia Hanna Habib
VP of The Gernert Company
Logan Phillips
Logan Phillips
Poet, Professor & DJ
Katie Raissian
Katie Raissian
Editor at Grove Atlantic

Advisory Board

Christopher Bryan
Christopher Bryan
President
Gretchen Cole
Gretchen Cole
Vice President
Elizabeth Mondry
Elizabeth Mondry
Treasurer
Sue O’Bryan
Sue O’Bryan
Secretary
Michelle Goldberg
Michelle Goldberg
Sue Hopkinson
Sue Hopkinson
Lauren Johnson
Lauren Johnson
Laurie Michaels
Laurie Michaels
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Lisanne Rogers
Lisanne Rogers
Luis Alberto Urrea
Luis Alberto Urrea
William Weathers
William Weathers
Marcella Larsen
Marcella Larsen
Erin Lentz
Erin Lentz
Cathy O’Connell
Cathy O’Connell

Residents

Jean Chen Ho
Jean Chen Ho
Gina Balibrera
Gina Balibrera
Brittany Penner
Brittany Penner
Nadia Davids
Nadia Davids
Miles W. Griffis
Miles W. Griffis

ADVISORY BOARD

Christopher Bryan

Mark Tompkins

Vice President

Elizabeth Mondry

Treasurer

Sue O’Bryan

Secretary

Tara Carson

Sarah Chase Shaw

Gretchen Cole

Paul Freeman

Sue Hopkinson

Marcella Larsen

Erin Lentz

Ginger Lewis

Cathy O’Connell

Blanca Uzeta O’Leary

Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Lisanne Rogers

Luis Alberto Urrea

Creative Council

The Creative Council is a group of literary and publishing professionals who help to support and broaden Aspen Words’ reach throughout the national and international literary community.

Julie Barer

Partner at The Book Group

Emily Bernard

Acclaimed Author & Professor

Tina Chang

Poet Laureate of Brooklyn

Grant Faulkner

Acclaimed Author & Literary Executive

Courtney Gillette

Acclaimed Author & Professor

Alia Hanna Habib

VP of The Gernert Company

Logan Phillips

Poet, Professor & DJ

Katie Raissian

Editor at Grove Atlantic

Community agreement

The Aspen Institute is dedicated to advancing a free, just, and equitable society. Consistent with that mission, the Institute is committed to creating a safe and vibrant community that is respectful, inclusive, and welcoming to people from all different backgrounds and across the world. We recognize people will have different viewpoints and perspectives. However, only when we treat people with mutual respect and dignity can we truly come together to share a free and open exchange of ideas. So we offer this Community Agreement as a code of conduct to help stakeholders understand what we expect for them when they are engaging with the Institute community, as well as to guide them on what does not belong. If we all follow this Community Agreement, we can ensure everyone feels empowered to participate and further promote intellectual growth and curiosity.

General Expectations for Institute Community Engagement

At the heart of the Institute’s community is a fundamental commitment to mutual respect and trust, regardless of whether engagement is in-person or in a virtual setting.

Those who engage in our community will not always agree with one another. Many will have strong viewpoints, opinions, and convictions that often lead to dynamic discussion and vigorous debate. Accordingly, we expect all community members to:

  • Be kind and respectful of one another, even when there’s disagreement;
  • Approach discussions constructively and avoid personal, disparaging, or abusive attacks;
  • Actively listen and try to account for full context;
  • Recognize and observe others’ personal boundaries, physical or otherwise;
  • Be open to hearing how your words and actions affect others; and
  • While we all make mistakes, be willing to right wrongs and learn from them.

The Institute is committed to being an anti-racist organization and taking steps to address structural and systemic barriers. That calls on all of us to continue listening, learning, and working to improve our standards over time to be more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming of others and to foster a greater sense of belonging.

The Institute also requires community members to conduct themselves consistent with the following standards:

Prohibition of Discrimination or Harassment
The Institute will not tolerate in our community discrimination or harassment based on someone’s race, color, gender, national origin, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, political affiliation, or any other ground prohibited by applicable law.

Prohibition of Sexual Harassment and Similar Behavior
The Institute further will not tolerate in our community sexual harassment of any kind, including, but not limited to, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, unwanted physical contact, and/or other inappropriate verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature.

Drug and Alcohol Policy
The Institute prohibits the use, distribution, sale, and transfer of any illicit or illegal drugs while on the Institute’s premises or attending Institute events. This includes use of marijuana even in locations where it is legal for private recreational use. Alcohol may be consumed at Institute events when the custom and occasion are appropriate. However, individuals still must be of legal drinking age and consumption must be moderate. In all cases, individuals who engage in the Institute’s community must maintain good judgement or the ability to act responsibly and consistent with this Community Agreement.

Safety and No Weapons Policy
The Institute’s first priority is the safety and security of people in our community. If you see something that presents a safety or security concern or need medical assistance, please approach an Institute team member so we can promptly address the matter — unless it is a life threatening emergency in which case please call 911. As part of our commitment to ensure the wellbeing of our event participants and staff, we have a no-weapons policy for all our locations, events, meetings, and convenings, wherever they occur. This is irrespective of whether an individual has a concealed weapons permit, or whether the location permits carrying weapons. The only exception is for law enforcement or security the Institute has engaged or allowed at its convenings, but only as part of their official role.

Reporting and Addressing Violations
If you have been involved in or see an incident you believe violates this Community Agreement, or have any concerns at all, please seek out an Institute team member to report your concern. You also may report a concern through our reporting hotline operated by an independent service that helps us with intake and routing:

The Institute will appropriately investigate all reports and maintain confidentiality to the extent possible under the circumstances. Through our hotline, you have the option of making anonymous reports. However, we encourage reporters to identify themselves and give as many details as possible, since anonymous reports may greatly limit our ability to fully investigate. The Institute may take any action we consider appropriate, including, but not limited to, issuing a warning, barring someone from future events and convenings, and/or referring the matter to law enforcement. (Institute employees should refer to the Institute’s Employee Handbook for standards of conduct applicable to them.)