Literary Prize

THE 2024 SHORTLIST

3 NOVELS. 2 SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS. 1 DEBUT.
5 WORKS OF FICTION.

L to R: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Isabella Hammad, James McBride, Aaliyah Bilal, Jamel Brinkley

ABOUT THE PRIZE

The Aspen Words Literary Prize 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.

Annually, open to authors of any nationality, the award is one of the largest literary prizes in the United States, and one of the few focused exclusively on fiction with a social impact. Past winners include Mohsin Hamid (2018 for “Exit West”), Tayari Jones (2019 for “An American Marriage”), Christy Lefteri (2020 for “The Beekeeper of Aleppo”), Louise Erdrich (2021 for “The Night Watchman”), Dawnie Walton (2022 for “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev”) and Jamil Jan Kochai (2023 for “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak”). Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, race or other social issues.

2024 Submission Timeline

Submission fee is $105 per book, only 4 submissions per publishing house.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024 – Submissions opened. Click here to nominate.

Wednesday, August 7, 2024 – Submissions close

Wednesday, November 13, 2024 – Longlist announcement

Wednesday, March 12, 2025 – Shortlist announcement

Winner announcement & 2025 AWLP Ceremony and Reception – TBD

THE 2024 LONGLIST

10 NOVELS. 4 SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS. 4 DEBUT VOICES.
14 WORKS OF FICTION.

Winner announced: April 25 

Top row L to R: Aaliyah Bilal, Alejandro Varela, Stephen Buoro, C Pam Zhang, Claire Jiménez
Middle row L to R: Isabella Hammad, James McBride, Jesmyn Ward, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Bottom row L to R: Jamel Brinkley, Jennifer Maritza McCauley, Sonora Jha, R.F. Kuang, Rebecca Makkai

2024 Shortlist

Presenting the 2024 Aspen Words Literary Prize Shortlist. 3 novels. 2 short story collections.1 debut voice. 5 works of fiction.

“CHAIN-GANG ALL STARS”
by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Pantheon – PRH

“TEMPLE FOLK”
by Aaliyah Bilal

Simon & Schuster

“WITNESS”
by Jamel Brinkley
Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Macmillan

“THE HEAVEN & EARTH GROCERY STORE”

by James McBride

Riverhead Books – Penguin Random House

“ENTER GHOST”

by Isabella Hammad

Grove Press – Grove Atlantic

LEARN MORE

Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly popular, highly controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom. In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thurwar and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, she considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games, but CAPE’s corporate owners will stop at nothing to protect their status quo and the obstacles they lay in Thurwar’s path have devastating consequences.  Moving from the Links in the field to the protestors to the CAPE employees and beyond, Chain-Gang All-Stars is a kaleidoscopic, excoriating look at the American prison system’s unholy alliance of systemic racism, unchecked capitalism and mass incarceration and a clear-eyed reckoning with what freedom in this country really means. 

Pantheon – Random House

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is the New York Times-bestselling author of  Friday Black. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, The Paris Review and elsewhere. He was a National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honoree, the winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the Saroyan Prize, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for Best First Book, along with many other honors. Raised in Spring Valley, New York, he now lives in the Bronx.

 

In Temple Folk, Black Muslims contemplate the convictions of their race, religion, economics, politics and sexuality in America. The 10 stories in this collection contribute to the bounty of diverse narratives about Black life by intimately portraying the experiences of a community that resists the mainstream culture to which they are expected to accept and aspire to while functioning within the country in which they are born. With an unflinching eye for the contradictions between what these characters profess to believe and what they do, Temple Folk accomplishes the rare feat of presenting moral failures with compassion, nuance and humor to remind us that while perfection is what many of us strive for, it’s the errors that make us human. 

Simon & Schuster

Aaliyah Bilal was born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She has degrees from Oberlin College and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. She’s published stories and essays with The Michigan Quarterly Review and The Rumpus.Temple Folkis her first short story collection.

What does it mean to really see the world around you—to bear witness? And what does it cost us, both to see and not to see? In these ten stories, each set in the changing landscapes of contemporary New York City, a range of characters—from children to grandmothers to ghosts—live through the responsibility of perceiving and the moral challenge of speaking up or taking action. Though they strive to connect with, stand up for, care for and remember one another, they often fall short and the structures they build around these ambitions and failures shape their futures as well as the legacies and prospects of their communities and their city. In its portraits of families and friendships lost and found, the paradox of intimacy, the long shadow of grief and the meaning of home,Witness enacts its own testimony. Here is a world where fortunes can be made and stolen in just a few generations, where strangers might sometimes show kindness while those we trust—doctors, employers, siblings—too often turn away, where joy comes in snatches: flowers on a windowsill, dancing in the street, glimpsing your purpose, change on the horizon. 

Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Macmillan

Jamel Brinkley is the author of A Lucky Man: Stories, which won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Story Prize, the John Leonard Prize, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. He has also been awarded an O. Henry Prize, the Rome Prize, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, and a Lannan Foundation Fellowship. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, A Public Space, Ploughshares and The Best American Short Stories. He was raised in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, New York, and currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

After years away from her family’s homeland, and healing from an affair with an established director, stage actress Sonia Nasir returns to Palestine to visit her older sister Haneen. Though the siblings grew up spending summers at their family home in Haifa, Sonia hasn’t been since the second intifada and the deaths of her grandparents. While Haneen stayed and made a life commuting to Tel Aviv to teach at the university, Sonia remained in London to focus on her burgeoning acting career and now dissolute marriage. On her return, she finds her relationship to Palestine is fragile, both bone-deep and new.

Once at Haneen’s, Sonia meets the charismatic and candid Mariam, a local director, and finds herself roped into a production of Hamlet in the West Bank. Soon, Sonia is rehearsing Gertude’s lines in Classical Arabic and spending more time in Ramallah than in Haifa with a dedicated group of men from all over historic Palestine who, in spite of competing egos and priorities, each want to bring Shakespeare to that side of the wall. As opening night draws closer it becomes clear just how many invasive and violent obstacles stand before a troupe of Palestinian actors. Amidst it all, the life Sonia once knew starts to give way to the daunting, exhilarating possibility of finding a new self in her ancestral home.

A stunning rendering of present-day Palestine, Enter Ghost is a story of diaspora, displacement, and the connection to be found in family and shared resistance. Timely, thoughtful, and passionate, Isabella Hammad’s highly anticipated second novel is an exquisite feat, an unforgettable story of artistry under occupation.

Grove Press – Grove Atlantic

Isabella Hammad is the author of The Parisian and Enter Ghost. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, The Nation, Granta, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. She was awarded the Plimpton Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Palestine Book Award and a Betty Trask Award, and her work has been supported by the Lannan Foundation and Columbia University’s Institute for Ideas and Imagination.

In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe. As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us. 

Riverhead Books – Penguin Random House

James McBride is the author of the New York Times–bestselling Oprah’s Book Club selection Deacon King Kong, the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, the American classic The Color of Water, the novels Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna, the story collection Five-Carat Soul, and Kill ’Em and Leave, a biography of James Brown. The recipient of a National Humanities Medal and an accomplished musician, McBride is also a distinguished writer in residence at New York University.

2024 Longlist

Presenting the 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Longlist. 7 debut voices. 5 short story collections. 14 works of fiction.

“CHAIN-GANG ALL STARS”
by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Pantheon – PRH

“TEMPLE FOLK”
by Aaliyah Bilal

Simon & Schuster

“WITNESS”
by Jamel Brinkley
Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Macmillan

“THE FIVE SORROWFUL MYSTERIES OF ANDY AFRICA”

by Stephen Buoro

Bloomsbury Publishing 

“ENTER GHOST”

by Isabella Hammad

Grove Press – Grove Atlantic

“THE LAUGHTER”

by Sonora Jha

HarperVia – Harper Collins

“WHAT HAPPENED TO RUTHY RAMIREZ”

by Claire Jiménez

Grand Central Publishing-Hachette

“YELLOWFACE”

by R.F. Kuang

William Morrow – Harper Collins

“I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU”

by Rebecca Makkai

Viking Press – Penguin Random House

“THE HEAVEN & EARTH GROCERY STORE”

by James McBride

Riverhead Books – Penguin Random House

“WHEN TRYING TO RETURN HOME: STORIES”

by Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Counterpoint Press – Penguin Random House

“THE PEOPLE WHO REPORT MORE STRESS: STORIES”

by Alejandro Varela

Astra House

“LET US DESCEND”

by Jesmyn Ward

Scribner – Simon & Schuster

“LAND OF MILK AND HONEY”

by C Pam Zhang

Riverhead Books – Penguin Random House

LEARN MORE

Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly popular, highly controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom. In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thurwar and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, she considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games, but CAPE’s corporate owners will stop at nothing to protect their status quo and the obstacles they lay in Thurwar’s path have devastating consequences.  Moving from the Links in the field to the protestors to the CAPE employees and beyond, Chain-Gang All-Stars is a kaleidoscopic, excoriating look at the American prison system’s unholy alliance of systemic racism, unchecked capitalism and mass incarceration and a clear-eyed reckoning with what freedom in this country really means. 

Pantheon – Random House

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is the New York Times-bestselling author of  Friday Black. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, The Paris Review and elsewhere. He was a National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honoree, the winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the Saroyan Prize, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for Best First Book, along with many other honors. Raised in Spring Valley, New York, he now lives in the Bronx.

 

In Temple Folk, Black Muslims contemplate the convictions of their race, religion, economics, politics and sexuality in America. The 10 stories in this collection contribute to the bounty of diverse narratives about Black life by intimately portraying the experiences of a community that resists the mainstream culture to which they are expected to accept and aspire to while functioning within the country in which they are born. With an unflinching eye for the contradictions between what these characters profess to believe and what they do, Temple Folk accomplishes the rare feat of presenting moral failures with compassion, nuance and humor to remind us that while perfection is what many of us strive for, it’s the errors that make us human. 

Simon & Schuster

Aaliyah Bilal was born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She has degrees from Oberlin College and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. She’s published stories and essays with The Michigan Quarterly Review and The Rumpus.Temple Folkis her first short story collection.

What does it mean to really see the world around you—to bear witness? And what does it cost us, both to see and not to see? In these ten stories, each set in the changing landscapes of contemporary New York City, a range of characters—from children to grandmothers to ghosts—live through the responsibility of perceiving and the moral challenge of speaking up or taking action. Though they strive to connect with, stand up for, care for and remember one another, they often fall short and the structures they build around these ambitions and failures shape their futures as well as the legacies and prospects of their communities and their city. In its portraits of families and friendships lost and found, the paradox of intimacy, the long shadow of grief and the meaning of home,Witness enacts its own testimony. Here is a world where fortunes can be made and stolen in just a few generations, where strangers might sometimes show kindness while those we trust—doctors, employers, siblings—too often turn away, where joy comes in snatches: flowers on a windowsill, dancing in the street, glimpsing your purpose, change on the horizon. 

Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Macmillan

Jamel Brinkley is the author of A Lucky Man: Stories, which won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Story Prize, the John Leonard Prize, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. He has also been awarded an O. Henry Prize, the Rome Prize, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, and a Lannan Foundation Fellowship. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, A Public Space, Ploughshares and The Best American Short Stories. He was raised in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, New York, and currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Andrew Aziza is an unusually smart fifteen-year-old in Kontagora, Nigeria. He lives with his fiercely protective mother, Gloria, and fantasizes obsessively about white girls—especially blondes. When he’s not in church, at school, or hanging about town with his droogs wishing to become one of “Africa’s first superheroes,” he’s contemplating the larger questions with his teacher Zahrah and his equally brilliant friend Fatima, a Hausa-Fulani girl who has feelings for him. Together they discuss mathematical theorems, Black power, and what Andy has deemed the Curse of Africa.

Sure enough, the reluctantly nicknamed Andy Africa soon falls hopelessly and inappropriately in love with the first white girl he lays eyes on: Eileen. But at the church party held to celebrate her arrival, multiple crises loom. An unfamiliar man there claims, despite his mother’s denials, to be Andy’s father, and an anti-Christian mob has gathered, headed for the church. In the ensuing havoc and its aftermath, Andy is forced to reckon with his identity and desires and determine how to live on the so-called Cursed Continent.

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa announces a dazzlingly unique literary voice. Crackling with energy, this tragicomic novel provides a stunning lens into contemporary African life, the complicity of the West, and the impossible challenges of growing up in a turbulent world.

Bloomsbury Publishing

Stephen Buoro was born in Nigeria in 1993. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where he received the theBooker Prize Foundation Scholarship. He lives in Norwich, United Kingdom.  The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa is his first novel. 

After years away from her family’s homeland, and healing from an affair with an established director, stage actress Sonia Nasir returns to Palestine to visit her older sister Haneen. Though the siblings grew up spending summers at their family home in Haifa, Sonia hasn’t been since the second intifada and the deaths of her grandparents. While Haneen stayed and made a life commuting to Tel Aviv to teach at the university, Sonia remained in London to focus on her burgeoning acting career and now dissolute marriage. On her return, she finds her relationship to Palestine is fragile, both bone-deep and new.

Once at Haneen’s, Sonia meets the charismatic and candid Mariam, a local director, and finds herself roped into a production of Hamlet in the West Bank. Soon, Sonia is rehearsing Gertude’s lines in Classical Arabic and spending more time in Ramallah than in Haifa with a dedicated group of men from all over historic Palestine who, in spite of competing egos and priorities, each want to bring Shakespeare to that side of the wall. As opening night draws closer it becomes clear just how many invasive and violent obstacles stand before a troupe of Palestinian actors. Amidst it all, the life Sonia once knew starts to give way to the daunting, exhilarating possibility of finding a new self in her ancestral home.

A stunning rendering of present-day Palestine, Enter Ghost is a story of diaspora, displacement, and the connection to be found in family and shared resistance. Timely, thoughtful, and passionate, Isabella Hammad’s highly anticipated second novel is an exquisite feat, an unforgettable story of artistry under occupation.

Grove Press – Grove Atlantic

Isabella Hammad is the author of The Parisian and Enter Ghost. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, The Nation, Granta, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. She was awarded the Plimpton Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Palestine Book Award and a Betty Trask Award, and her work has been supported by the Lannan Foundation and Columbia University’s Institute for Ideas and Imagination.

Dr. Oliver Harding, a tenured professor of English, is long settled into the routines of a divorced, aging academic. But his quiet, staid life is upended by his new colleague, Ruhaba Khan, a dynamic Pakistani Muslim law professor. Ruhaba unexpectedly ignites Oliver’s long-dormant passions, a secret desire that quickly tips towards obsession after her teenaged nephew, Adil Alam, arrives from France to stay with her. Drawn to them, Oliver tries to reconcile his discomfort with the worlds from which they come and to quiet his sense of dismay at the encroaching change they represent—both in background and in Ruhaba’s spirited engagement with the student movements on campus. After protests break out demanding diversity across the university, Oliver finds himself and his beliefs under fire, even as his past reveals a picture more complicated than it seems. An explosive, tense and illuminating work of fiction, The Laughter is a fascinating portrait of privilege, radicalization, class and modern academia that forces us to confront the assumptions we make, as both readers and as citizens. 

HarperVia – Harper Collins

Sonora Jha is the author of the memoir How to Raise a Feminist Son and the novel Foreign. After a career as a journalist covering crime, politics and culture in India and Singapore, she moved to the United States to earn a PhD in media and public affairs. Sonora’s op-eds, essays, and public appearances have been featured in the New York Times, on the BBC, in anthologies, and elsewhere. She is a professor of journalism and lives in Seattle. 

The Ramirez women of Staten Island orbit around absence. When 13-year-old middle child Ruthy disappeared after track practice without a trace, it left the family scarred and scrambling. One night, twelve years later, oldest sister Jessica spots a woman on her TV screen on Catfight, a raunchy reality show. She rushes to tell her younger sister, Nina: This woman’s hair is dyed red and she calls herself Ruby, but the beauty mark under her left eye is instantly recognizable. Could it be Ruthy, after all this time? The years since Ruthy’s disappearance haven’t been easy on the Ramirez family. It’s 2008 and their mother, Dolores, still struggles with the loss, Jessica juggles a newborn baby with her hospital job and Nina, after four successful years at college, has returned home to medical school rejections and is forced to work in the mall folding tiny bedazzled thongs at the lingerie store. After seeing maybe Ruthy on their screen, Jessica and Nina hatch a plan to drive to where the show is filmed in search of their long lost sister. What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is a vivid family portrait, in all its shattered reality, exploring the familial bonds between women and cycles of generational violence, colonialism, race and silence, replete with snark, resentment, tenderness and of course, love. 

Grand Central Publishing – Hachette

Claire Jiménez is a Puerto Rican writer who grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island. She is the author of the short story collection Staten Island Stories, which received the 2019 Hornblower Award for a first book from the New York Society Library and was named a finalist for the International Latino Book Awards, a New York Public Library Favorite Book about New York, and Best Latino Book of 2019 by NBC News. She received her MFA from Vanderbilt University and her PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2020, she cofounded the Puerto Rican Literature Project, a digital archive. Currently she is an Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Remezcla, AfroHispanic Review, PANK, The Rumpus, and Eater, among other publications. What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is her debut novel. 

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars. But Athena’s a literary darling. June Hayward is literally nobody.Who wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks. So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I. Sowhat if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song—complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims and the New York Timesbestseller list seems to agree. But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves. With its totally immersive first-person voice,Yellowface grapples with questions of diversity, racism and cultural appropriation, as well as the terrifying alienation of social media.

William Morrow – Harper Collins

R.F. Kuang bio coming soon.

A successful film professor and podcaster, Bodie Kane is content to forget her past—the family tragedy that marred her adolescence, her four largely miserable years at a New Hampshire boarding school and the murder of her former roommate, Thalia Keith, in the spring of their senior year. Though the circumstances surrounding Thalia’s death and the conviction of the school’s athletic trainer, Omar Evans, are hotly debated online, Bodie prefers—needs—to let sleeping dogs lie. But when the Granby School invites her back to teach a course, Bodie is inexorably drawn to the case and its increasingly apparent flaws. In their rush to convict Omar, did the school and the police overlook other suspects? Is the real killer still out there?  

Viking Press – Penguin Random House

Rebecca Makkai’s last novel,The Great Believers, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; it was the winner of the ALA Carnegie Medal, the Stonewall Book Award, the Clark Prize, and the LA Times Book Prize; and it was one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of 2018. Her other books are the novels The Borrowerand The Hundred-Year House, and the collection Music for Wartime—four stories from which appeared in The Best American Short Stories. A 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Rebecca is on the MFA faculties of the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe and Northwestern University, and is Artistic Director of StoryStudioChicago. 

In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe. As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us. 

Riverhead Books – Penguin Random House

James McBride is the author of the New York Times–bestselling Oprah’s Book Club selection Deacon King Kong, the National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird, the American classic The Color of Water, the novels Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna, the story collection Five-Carat Soul, and Kill ’Em and Leave, a biography of James Brown. The recipient of a National Humanities Medal and an accomplished musician, McBride is also a distinguished writer in residence at New York University.

Profoundly moving and powerful, the stories in When Trying to Return Home dig deeply into the question of belonging. A young woman is torn between overwhelming love for her mother and the need to break free from her damaging influence during a desperate and disastrous attempt to rescue her brother from foster care. A man, his wife and his mistress each confront the borders separating love and hate, obligation and longing, on the eve of a flight to San Juan. A college student grapples with the space between chivalry and machismo in a tense encounter involving a nun. And in 1930s Louisiana, a woman attempting to find a place to call her own chances upon an old friend at a bar and must reckon with her troubled past. Forming a web of desires and consequences that span generations, McCauley’s Black American and Afro–Puerto Rican characters remind us that these voices have always been here, occupying the very center of American life—even if we haven’t always been willing to listen. 

Counterpoint Press – Penguin Random House

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a writer, poet, and university professor. She has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, CantoMundo, Kimbilio, and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. She holds an MFA from Florida International University and a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Missouri. The author of the cross-genre collection Scar on/Scar off, she is an assistant professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Houston–Clear Lake.

he People Who Report More Stressis a collection of interconnected stories brimming with the anxieties of people who retreat into themselves while living in the margins, acutely aware of the stresses that modern life takes upon the body and the body politic. A collection of humorous, sexy and highly neurotic tales about parenting, long-term relationships, systemic and interpersonal racism and class conflict from the author ofThe Town of Babylon, The People Who Report More Stress deftly and poignantly expresses the frustration of knowing the problems and solutions to our society’s inequities but being unable to do anything about them. 

Astra House

Alejandro Varela (he/him) is a writer based in New York. His debut novel, The Town of Babylon, was published by Astra House and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His work has appeared in the Point Magazine, Georgia Review, Boston Review, Harper’s, and the Offing, among others outlets. Varela is an editor-at-large of Apogee Journal. His graduate studies were in public health.

Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation. Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give and those who manipulate and take.  

Scribner – Simon & Schuster

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has received the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, the Strauss Living Prize, and the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. She is the historic winner—first woman and first Black American—of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones(2011). She is also the author of the novel Where the Line Bleeds and the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi. 

A smog has spread. Food crops are rapidly disappearing. A chef escapes her dying career in a dreary city to take a job at a decadent mountaintop colony seemingly free of the world’s troubles. There, the sky is clear again. Rare ingredients abound. Her enigmatic employer and his visionary daughter have built a lush new life for the global elite, one that reawakens the chef to the pleasures of taste, touch and her own body. In this atmosphere of hidden wonders and cool, seductive violence, the chef’s boundaries undergo a thrilling erosion. Soon she is pushed to the center of a startling attempt to reshape the world far beyond the plate. Sensuous and surprising, joyous and bitingly sharp, told in language as alluring as it is original, Land of Milk and Honey lays provocatively bare the ethics of seeking pleasure in a dying world. It is a daringly imaginative exploration of desire and deception, privilege and faith and the roles we play to survive. Most of all, it is a love letter to food, to wild delight and to the transformative power of a woman embracing her own appetite. 

Riverhead Books – Penguin Random House

C Pam Zhang is the author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold, winner of the Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award and the Asian/Pacific Award for Literature, longlisted for the Booker Prize, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and the National Book Critics’ John Leonard Prize, and one of Barack Obama’s favorite books of the year. She is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree and a New York Public Library Cullman Fellow.

ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE 2024 LONGLIST READING CHALLENGE 

CONTEST OFFICIAL RULES 

 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE 2024 LONGLIST READING CHALLENGE (“CONTEST”). A PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING.  

CONTEST BEGINS AT 12:01AM MST 1/16/2024 AND ENDS 11:59PM MST 3/12/2024 (“CONTEST DEADLINE”). 

 

1. ELIGIBILITY: Contest is open to legal residents of the United States and District of Columbia, age 18 or older, and is void where prohibited by law. Employees of the Aspen Institute (“Sponsor”), and their immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of Aspen Institute employees are not eligible to participate in the Contest. Additionally, Judges participating in the selection of the finalists for the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 shortlist, as well as the immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of judges are not eligible to participate in the Contest.

 

2. HOW TO ENTER: Sponsor encourages you to read and review the 14 titles included in the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 Longlist and to post your five (5) book predictions for the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 shortlist on your Instagram feed. Instagram stories shall not be considered a valid entry for the Contest. Entrants must tag @AspenWords in the image and use #AspenLitPrize in the caption.

 

3. ELLIGIBLE ENTRIES: One (1) entry per Instagram user. If multiple entries are posted from the same user, only the entry posted earliest will be eligible.

 

4. SELECTION OF WINNER: One winner (“Winner”) will be determined from all eligible entries posted/received by the Contest Deadline. The Contest entrant who correctly predicts the five (5) Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 shortlisted books will be named the Winner. If multiple entrants predict all 5 shortlisted books correctly, there will be a random drawing amongst those entrants to determine the Winner.  If no entrant correctly predicts all 5 shortlisted books, then the entrant who correctly predicts the highest number of shortlisted books shall be deemed the Winner.  

 

5. NOTIFICATION OF WINNER: Sponsor will notify the Winner via Instagram direct message on 3/14/2024 as well as through a public Instagram post to the @AspenWords account. Winner will have until 11:59PM MST 3/21/2024 to respond and accept the Prize Package and book travel using the Sponsor’s travel agency. If Winner does not timely claim the Prize Package, the Prize Package will be forfeited and Sponsor will select a second winner. Sponsor will select an alternate winner until the Prize Package is accepted.  

 

6. PRIZE PACKAGE: Sponsor will select one (1) Winner to receive the Prize Package. The Prize Package consists of: 

    • Roundtrip travel up to $700 USD to New York City from within the United States (to be booked through Sponsor’s travel agency). 
    • Two (2) nights of lodging (April 24 and April 25, 2024) at The Library Hotel, 299 Madison Ave, at E. 41st Street New York, NY, or similar hotel selected by Sponsor – approximate retail value $ 730. 
    • One (1) ticket to the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 VIP dinner on April 24, 2024, at the Blackbarn Restaurant, 19 E 26TH Street, New York, NY  – approximate retail value $262. 
    • One (1) ticket to attend the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 Awards Ceremony and VIP Docent Tour on April 25, 2024, at the Morgan Library, 225 Madison Avenue, New York, NY  – approximate retail value $250.

 

7. ODDS:  The odds of winning Contest will depend on the number of eligible entries received. 

 

8. TOTAL APPROXIMATE RETAIL VALUE OF PRIZE PACKAGE: $1,942 USD. Sponsor reserves the right to substitute prizes of equal or greater value. No cash or other prize substitution shall be permitted. The Prize Package is nontransferable. Sponsor is responsible only for Prize Package delivery. Sponsor is not responsible for prize utility, quality or otherwise. Taxes and fees, if any, are the sole responsibility of Winner. Winner will be required to provide Sponsor with a signed IRS Form W-9 before receiving the Prize Package. Sponsor will report the actual value of the Prize Package awarded on IRS Form 1099, to the extent required by law. 

 

 9. RIGHTS GRANTED BY YOU: By entering this Contest, you understand and agree that the Aspen Institute shall have the right, where permitted by law, to print, publish, broadcast, distribute, and use in any media now known or hereafter developed, in perpetuity without limitation, your entry post, name, picture, voice, likeness, image, statements about the Contest, and biographical information for news, publicity, information and Contest promotional purposes without additional compensation, notice, review or consent. 

 

10. LIMITATION OF LIABILITY: By entering Contest, you agree to release and hold harmless Sponsor, and their respective subsidiaries, affiliates, suppliers, distributors, advertising/promotion agencies, Prize Package suppliers, Instagram and each of their respective parent companies and each such company’s officers, directors, employees and agents (collectively, the “Released Parties”) from and against any claim or cause of action, including, but not limited to, personal injury, death, or damage to or loss of property, arising out of participation in the Contest or receipt or use or misuse of any aspect of the Prize Package. 

 

11. GENERAL: This Contest is void outside the United States and where prohibited or restricted by law and subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. This Contest will be governed by the internal laws of the State of Colorado. Any and all legal actions or claims arising in connection with this Contest must be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction within the United States of America. Sponsor reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to modify, cancel, terminate or suspend this Contest if any cause outside of Sponsor’s control corrupts or affects the administration, security, fairness, integrity or proper conduct of the Contest. In the event of any such cancellation, termination or suspension, a notice will be posted on the Aspen Words’ Instagram account. Sponsor reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to disqualify any entrant (and entrant’s submission) from this Contest or any other promotion conducted now or in the future by Sponsor or any of its affiliates if entrant tampers with the entry process or if entrant’s fraud or misconduct affects the integrity of the Contest. Sponsor reserves the right to correct clerical or typographical errors in promotional materials. Sponsor is not responsible for any technical failure in the entry process.  

CONSENT TO OFFICIAL RULES: By participating in this Contest, you accept the conditions stated in these Official Rules, agree to be bound by the decisions of the judges and warrant that you are eligible to participate in this Contest.By participating in the Contest, you agree to Sponsor’s Community Agreement and acknowledge that your information may be used consistently with the Sponsor’s Privacy Policy.  

 

12. SPONSOR: The Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 Longlist Reading Challenge is sponsored solely by Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute, 110 E. Hallam Street, Suite 116, Aspen, CO 81611. The Contest is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Instagram. 

 

13. QUESTIONS REGARDING THIS CONTEST? Send an email to aspenwords@aspeninstitute.org and type “Question Re Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 Reading Challenge” in the subject line.
 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2024 Longlist Reading Challenge. A PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING. 

 

PRIZE JURY & SELECTION COMMITTEE

2024 Jury

The five-member jury, which changes annually, is comprised of scholars, notable authors and others with literary expertise. Judges are selected and recruited by the Aspen Words staff in consultation with past AWLP finalists and winners and members of the Aspen Words and Aspen Institute communities.

The jury reads the longlisted titles and determines the five finalists as well as the winner. The longlist is determined by the Selection Committee (bottom of the page).

Lan Samantha Chang is the author of “The Family Chao,” a winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Fiction. A 25th anniversary edition of her first collection, “Hunger: A Novella and Stories” was recently published by W.W. Norton & Company. She is also the author of “All Is Forgotten,” “Nothing Is Lost” and “Inheritance,” which won the PEN Open Book Award. Since 2006, she has directed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her husband and daughter.

Christina Baker Kline is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, including “The Exiles,”“Orphan Train,” “A Piece of the World,” and is published in 40 countries. Her novels have received the New England Prize for Fiction, the Maine Literary Award and a Barnes & Noble Discover Award, among other prizes, and have been chosen by hundreds of communities, universities and schools as “One Book, One Read” selections. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in publications such as The New York Times and the NYT Book Review, The Washington Post,The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, LitHub, Psychology Today and Slate.

Anthony Marra is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels “Mercury Pictures Presents”and “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” and the story collection “The Tsar of Love and Techno.” He has received the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and the National Magazine Award, among other honors. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and their cats.

Simran Jeet Singh, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Religion & Society Program at the Aspen Institute and the author of the national bestseller “The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life.” Simran’s thought leadership on bias, empathy, wisdom and justice extends across corporate, educational and government settings. He is an Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity with Columbia University and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and a Soros Equality Fellow with the Open Society Foundations. In 2020, TIME Magazine recognized him as one of 16 people fighting for a more equal America. Simran earned graduate degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University, and he writes regularly for major outlets, including Harvard Business Review, TIME Magazine and Religion News Service. Simran also authored the award-winning children’s book “Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon.” Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Simran now lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters.

Chinelo Okparanta was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and immigrated to the United States at the age of ten. Her debut short story collection, “Happiness, Like Water,” was nominated for the Nigerian Writers Award, longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and the Etisalat Prize for Literature. Her first novel, “Under the Udala Trees, was nominated for numerous awards, including the Kirkus Prize and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. It was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and was a finalist for the International Dublin Literary Award. Okparanta has published work in The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, Granta, Lit Hub, Tin House, the Kenyon Review, AGNI, and other venues, and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. She is currently associate professor of English Literature and director of the Creative Writing Program at Swarthmore College.

2023 Selection Committee

 

The three-member Selection Committee reads all nominated works and determines the longlist. The 2023 longlist will be announced in mid-Nov. 2022.

Nora Gonzalez is a literary agent and a member of the foreign rights team at The Gernert Company, which she joined in 2020. She represents narrative nonfiction, memoirs, cookbooks, poetry, and literary fiction. Prior to joining Gernert, she was a book scout at Del Commune Enterprises. She lives in Brooklyn. 

Lois Nemcovsky is a veteran of the television business. Her most recent role was as Senior Vice President of International Media Operations at A+E Networks.  Her career provided many opportunities for her to enjoy personal passions for good storytelling, global travel, and for building lasting relationships with colleagues from many countries and cultures worldwide. Lois is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature.  She is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences as a Network Executive. She also graduated from Women in Cable Television’s Class 35 of the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute in 2017.  Since leaving A+E, Lois has been pursuing another personal passion – writing. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories.  She is an avid reader of literary fiction and enjoys biking and the beautiful beaches near her home in Ocean, New Jersey.  

Jerid P. Woods, also known as Akili Nzuri, is a writer, educator, PhD Candidate, and literary influencer. He was born and raised in Natchez, MSand survives on an unwavering commitment to ignite a passion for reading in the youth; he also exists as a living testimony to the power of shared stories and knowing one’s self. He is the owner and creator of Ablackmanreading.com and the Instagram blog: @ablackmanreading. He is also one half of the dynamic podcast duo, @booksarepopculture available for streaming on all services. 

ELIGIBILITY + SUBMISSIONS

WHO IS ELIGIBLE

  • Aspen Words will only accept submissions from publishers. Authors may not submit their own work for this award.
  • We will accept a maximum of 4 submissions per publisher (this is per imprint or small press).
  • The candidate’s book must be a work of fiction (either a novel or collection of short stories) published by a U.S. trade publisher (commercial, academic, or small press) between January 1, 2024 and December 31, 2024.
  • The work of fiction must illuminate vital contemporary issues, including but not limited to gender issues, environmental challenges, violence, inequality, justice, and issues of religion or race. Though books do not have to be set in contemporary times, they should provide historical context that helps to increase understanding of current issues. Click here for further details and examples of socially inspired fiction that is eligible for this prize. Browse the longlist and shortlists from previous years for examples of eligible works.
  • Self-published books are not eligible. No vanity press, hybrid self publishing or print on demand
  • Translated books in English are eligible, as long as they are published in the United States in 2024.
  • Anthologies containing work written by multiple authors are not eligible.
  • Coauthored books are not eligible.
  • Scripts and screenplays are not eligible.
  • Children’s literature (picture books, middle grade and young adult) is not eligible.
  • There are no restrictions on the nationality or residency of the author.
  • The author must be living at the time the book is submitted.
  • No work will be considered ineligible because its author has previously won this prize or any other prize.
  • The author must not be employed by the Aspen Institute, a Board member of the Aspen Institute, or a family member (spouse or child) of an employee or Board member of the Aspen Institute.
  • NOTE: Publishers whose submitted books are deemed ineligible by Aspen Words and the Selection Committee will not be issued refunds for the $105 entry fee.

SUBMISSION PROCESS & TIMELINE

2024 Submission Timeline

Tuesday, June 11, 2024 – Submissions opened. Click here to nominate.

Wednesday, August 7, 2024 – Submissions close

Wednesday, November 13, 2024 – Longlist announcement

Wednesday, March 12, 2025 – Shortlist announcement

Winner announcement & 2025 AWLP ceremony and reception – TBD

If you are a publisher and would like to receive further information about the Aspen Words Literary Prize, please sign up here. For general inquiries, please email literary.prize@aspeninstitute.org

  • Publishers should complete the Online Submission Form (which includes a Confirmation of Eligibility) by August 7, 2023. There is a $105 entry fee for each title submitted.*
  • The $105 entry fee can be paid with credit card through the online form or by sending a check (made out to “Aspen Words”) to 110 E. Hallam Street, Suite 116, Aspen, CO 81611. If paying by check, select “CHECK” on the submission form and you will not be asked to provide credit card info.
  • The $105 fee is non-refundable.

*The submission fee for one entry will be waived for publishers whose annual net sales are less than $4 million. Additional entries will cost $105 each. In order to waive dues for the first entry, please send an official letter confirming the publishing house’s net sales and send it as an attachment (.doc or .pdf) to literary.prize@aspeninstitute.org. Once approved, you will receive an email with a coupon code to use at checkout in order to have your submission fees waived.

  • Publishers must send digital copies of each submitted title. Please email a PDF version of the book to Literary.Prize@aspeninstitute.org with the file name in the following format: AUTHOR LAST NAME_BOOK TITLE. If a digital version of the book is not yet available at the time you complete the entry form, you may email the PDF as soon as it becomes available, before the August 7, 2024 deadline. Please submit your entries and send PDFs as early as possible. Once you have completed the nomination you will receive a confirmation email with additional instructions.
  • Longlisted publishers will be notified in mid-November 2024.

CONDITIONS

  • Authors must be made aware of and consent to the entry of their book for the Aspen Words Literary Prize
  • Publishers must provide a high res image of the book jacket, author biography and high res author photo on the submission form.
  • Shortlisted authors are required to attend the Awards Ceremony scheduled to take place in mid-April 2025 and their publishers are asked to cover the cost of airfare/transportation for their author to attend the event. Aspen Words will cover the cost of two nights lodging in New York City for all finalists.
  • The winning book will be featured as part of a Community Read event in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado during the spring/summer months.
  • Finalists and winner must agree to participate in Aspen Words/Aspen Institute publicity, including interviews, podcasts and other promotional activities.

Publishers must purchase from Aspen Words medallions to be affixed to the covers of Finalist and Winning books. Aspen Words will also license the medallion image artwork at no cost for reproduction on the covers of Finalist and Winner books.

SELECTION PROCESS

A selection committee reads all submissions independently and ranks/scores them with regard to the mission of the prize. The longlist is established based on the scores of the selection committee. The jury will read all longlisted books to determine the finalists and winner. The selection committee members are chosen based on their experience as readers in M.F.A programs, in the publishing industry, for the Aspen Summer Words workshop applications, or in other capacities that require extensive, thoughtful reading and evaluation of literature.

The five-member jury, which changes annually, is comprised of scholars, notable authors and others with literary expertise. Judges are selected and recruited by the Aspen Words staff in consultation with past AWLP finalists and winners and members of the Aspen Words and Aspen Institute communities. The jury reads the longlisted titles and determines the five finalists as well as the winner.

2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Awards Ceremony Livestream

PROGRAM April 19 @ 4:30 p.m. MT / 6:30 p.m. ET

Welcome 


Adrienne Brodeur, executive director, Aspen Words

Why Fiction is Vital 


Omar El Akkad, jury chair and author of “What Strange Paradise,” finalist for the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize

Conversation with the 2023 Finalists


Moderator: Kate Tuttle, executive editor at People magazine

Announcement of Winner


Adrienne Brodeur & Caroline Tory, managing director, Aspen Words

ABOUT…

Aspen Words
Literary Prize
Aspen Words
The Aspen Institute

The $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize is awarded annually to an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. Open to authors of any nationality, the award is one of the largest literary prizes in the United States, and one of the few focused exclusively on fiction with a social impact. The inaugural award was presented to Mohsin Hamid in 2018 for “Exit West,” his novel about migration and refugees. Tayari Jones won the 2019 prize for “An American Marriage,” her novel about racism and unjust incarceration; Christy Lefteri received the 2020 prize for her novel “The Beekeeper of Aleppo,” about Syrian refugees; and Louise Erdrich won the 2021 award for “The Night Watchman,” about Native American dispossession. Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, racism or other social issues

Aspen Words (AW) was founded in 1976 as a literary center based in Aspen, CO. A program of the Aspen Institute, its 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 and literary festival; Winter Words, a speaker series presenting the best of contemporary literature; monthlong writing residencies for authors to nourish their craft; and a writers-in-the-schools program. For more information, visit www.aspenwords.org.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

Moderator

MODERATOR | Kate Tuttle


Twitter: @katekilla

Kate Tuttle is an executive editor at People magazine, covering books. A past president of the National Book Critics Circle, she formerly edited the books pages at The Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Poets and Writers, Salon, Dame and elsewhere. Tuttle’s author profiles include subjects such as Salman Rushdie, Susan Orlean and Patricia Lockwood. Her essays have ranged from pondering the popularity of true crime stories among women readers to recounting the year in her childhood when she strongly identified with disgraced president Richard Nixon. A Kansas native, she now lives in New Jersey after long stints in Boston and Atlanta.

 

ANGIE CRUZ 

Twitter: @acruzwriter | Instagram: @writercruz

“In How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, Angie Cruz constructs an intimate portrait of life in the gears of the capitalist machine. Structurally inventive and flawless in register, this novel serves as a subtle meditation on what it means to survive in America when America is both home and the furthest thing from home. The result is a story of exquisite authenticity, an indictment of the myriad impossible hoops through which those not born into privilege are made, ceaselessly, to jump.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Angie Cruz is the author of the novels “Soledad,” “Let It Rain Coffee” and “Dominicana,” which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize and a Good Morning America Book Club pick, and most recently, “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water.” She is founder and editor in chief of Aster(ix), a literary and arts journal, and is an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburg

OSCAR HOKEAH

Twitter: @OscarHokeah | Instagram: @oscarhokeah

“At once heartbreaking and hopeful, Calling for a Blanket Dance is one of those rare debuts that feels like the author’s tenth book. Written with absolute control and confidence, this is a generational saga that spans multiple characters and viewpoints, yet remains focused on the aftershocks of trauma, the way damage echoes across time and place. Oscar Hokeah writes beautifully about pain and belonging and the power of family, told through many interpretations of and interactions with its central character, the unforgettable Ever Geimausaddle.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Oscar Hokeah is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma from his mother’s side and has Latinx heritage through his father. He holds an MA in English with a concentration in Native American Literature from the University of Oklahoma, as well as a BFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), with a minor in Indigenous Liberal Studies. He is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship Award through IAIA and is also a winner of the Native Writer Award through the Taos Summer Writers Conference. His short stories have been published in South Dakota Review, American Short Fiction, Yellow Medicine Review, Surreal South and Red Ink Magazine. He works with Indian Child Welfare in Tahlequah. His first novel, “Calling For a Blanket Dance,” is the winner of the PEN America/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, and is a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize/Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.

JAMIL JAN KOCHAI

Twitter: @JamilJanKochai | Instagram: @jamil_jan_kochai_author

“Jamil Jan Kochai has written a stylistically audacious collection about Afghans, Afghan Americans and the surreal, violent aftershocks of state violence. In 12 masterful stories, Kochai manages both an indictment and de-centering of the West’s decades-long campaign of violence through which countless Afghans have suffered. There is no clean-cut prescriptivism here: these stories of lives lost and regained in the shadow of the war on terror years are as impossible to categorize as they are wondrous to read.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Jamil Jan Kochai is the author of “99 Nights in Logar.” a finalist for the Pen/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. His short story collection, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories” was published in July 2022. He was born in an Afghan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, but he originally hails from Logar, Afghanistan. His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Short Stories. His essays have been published at The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Kochai was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded the Henfield Prize for Fiction. Currently, he is a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University.

MANUEL MUÑOZ

Instagram: @el_zigzagger

“As tender as they are unflinching, the stories in Manuel Muñoz’s brilliant collection offer a deeply human and quietly nuanced portrait of life in California’s Central Valley, where immigrant farmworkers do the often brutal work of keeping the United States fed. It’s difficult to overstate the depth of the characters that populate these stories – the fine shades of their desires and obligations, the things they want to do and the things they must.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Manuel Muñoz is the author of two previous collections and a novel. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, three O. Henry Awards, and has appeared in “Best American Short Stories.” A native of Dinuba, California, he lives in Tucson, Arizona.

SARAH THANKAM MATHEWS

Twitter: @smathewss | Instagram: @smathewss

“Set against the backdrop of the great recession, All This Could Be Different is an honest, haunting and quite often hilarious novel. In beautifully constructed sentences, Thankam Mathews bares open the workings of a life during those precarious, brittle years during which the entire façade of modern life threatened to crumble. The result is a book about queer love, found families and the struggle to find meaning and place in a world where both seem so often just out of reach.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Sarah Thankam Mathews grew up between Oman and India, immigrating to the United States at 17. Her work has been published in “Best American Short Stories” and she is a recipient of fellowships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 2020, she founded the mutual aid group Bed-Stuy Strong. “All This Could Be Different” is her first novel.

Purchase finalist books from the Aspen Words bookshelf at Bookshop.org and support independent bookstores

Jury

Rumaan Alam

Chris Bryan

Omar El Akkad

Teresa Goddu

Dawnie Walton

WE WOULD LIKE TO RECOGNIZE AND THANK THE FOLLOWING FOR MAKING THIS EVENT POSSIBLE:

Aspen Words Advisory Council

Chris Bryan, Gretchen Cole, Elizabeth Mondry, Sue O’Bryan, Sarah Chase Shaw, Michelle Goldberg, Sue Hopkinson, Lauren Johnson, Marcella Larsen, Erin Lentz, Cathy O’Connell, Blanca O’Leary, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Lisanne Rogers, Luis Alberto Urrea

Aspen Words Creative Council

Julie Barer, Emily Bernard, Tina Chang, Grant Faulkner, Courtney Gillette, Alia Hanna Habib, Logan Phillips, Katie Raissian

2023 Prize Jury

Rumaan Alam, Chris Bryan, Omar El Akkad, Teresa A. Goddu, Dawnie Walton

2022 Selection Committee

John Manuel Arias, Lee M. Harrington, Onyinye Ihezukwu

Aspen Words National Council

Amazon Literary Partnership & Audible

Aspen Institute Communications Team

The Morgan Library

Bentley Meeker Lighting & Staging, Catering x Restaurant Associates

Leah Ager

Volunteers

All the libraries and independent bookstores that support the transformative power of literature on thought and culture

FINALISTS

Angie Cruz

 Oscar Hokeah

Jamil Jan Kochai

Manuel Muñoz

 Sarah Thankam Mathews

Join us for 2023 Literary Prize Ceremony

at The Morgan Library, New York City Wednesday, April 19 | 6:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. MT)

Learn more about our finalists

ANGIE CRUZ 

Twitter: @acruzwriter | Instagram: @writercruz

“In How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, Angie Cruz constructs an intimate portrait of life in the gears of the capitalist machine. Structurally inventive and flawless in register, this novel serves as a subtle meditation on what it means to survive in America when America is both home and the furthest thing from home. The result is a story of exquisite authenticity, an indictment of the myriad impossible hoops through which those not born into privilege are made, ceaselessly, to jump.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Angie Cruz is the author of the novels “Soledad,” “Let It Rain Coffee” and “Dominicana,” which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize and a Good Morning America Book Club pick, and most recently, “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water.” She is founder and editor in chief of Aster(ix), a literary and arts journal, and is an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburg

OSCAR HOKEAH

Twitter: @OscarHokeah | Instagram: @oscarhokeah

“At once heartbreaking and hopeful, Calling for a Blanket Dance is one of those rare debuts that feels like the author’s tenth book. Written with absolute control and confidence, this is a generational saga that spans multiple characters and viewpoints, yet remains focused on the aftershocks of trauma, the way damage echoes across time and place. Oscar Hokeah writes beautifully about pain and belonging and the power of family, told through many interpretations of and interactions with its central character, the unforgettable Ever Geimausaddle.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Oscar Hokeah is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma from his mother’s side and has Latinx heritage through his father. He holds an MA in English with a concentration in Native American Literature from the University of Oklahoma, as well as a BFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), with a minor in Indigenous Liberal Studies. He is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship Award through IAIA and is also a winner of the Native Writer Award through the Taos Summer Writers Conference. His short stories have been published in South Dakota Review, American Short Fiction, Yellow Medicine Review, Surreal South and Red Ink Magazine. He works with Indian Child Welfare in Tahlequah. His first novel, “Calling For a Blanket Dance,” is the winner of the PEN America/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, and is a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize/Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.

JAMIL JAN KOCHAI

Twitter: @JamilJanKochai | Instagram: @jamil_jan_kochai_author

“Jamil Jan Kochai has written a stylistically audacious collection about Afghans, Afghan Americans and the surreal, violent aftershocks of state violence. In 12 masterful stories, Kochai manages both an indictment and de-centering of the West’s decades-long campaign of violence through which countless Afghans have suffered. There is no clean-cut prescriptivism here: these stories of lives lost and regained in the shadow of the war on terror years are as impossible to categorize as they are wondrous to read.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Jamil Jan Kochai is the author of “99 Nights in Logar.” a finalist for the Pen/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. His short story collection, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories” was published in July 2022. He was born in an Afghan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, but he originally hails from Logar, Afghanistan. His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and The Best American Short Stories. His essays have been published at The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Kochai was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded the Henfield Prize for Fiction. Currently, he is a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University.

MANUEL MUÑOZ

Instagram: @el_zigzagger

“As tender as they are unflinching, the stories in Manuel Muñoz’s brilliant collection offer a deeply human and quietly nuanced portrait of life in California’s Central Valley, where immigrant farmworkers do the often brutal work of keeping the United States fed. It’s difficult to overstate the depth of the characters that populate these stories – the fine shades of their desires and obligations, the things they want to do and the things they must.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Manuel Muñoz is the author of two previous collections and a novel. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, three O. Henry Awards, and has appeared in “Best American Short Stories.” A native of Dinuba, California, he lives in Tucson, Arizona.

SARAH THANKAM MATHEWS

Twitter: @smathewss | Instagram: @smathewss

“Set against the backdrop of the great recession, All This Could Be Different is an honest, haunting and quite often hilarious novel. In beautifully constructed sentences, Thankam Mathews bares open the workings of a life during those precarious, brittle years during which the entire façade of modern life threatened to crumble. The result is a book about queer love, found families and the struggle to find meaning and place in a world where both seem so often just out of reach.” – 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Jury Sarah Thankam Mathews grew up between Oman and India, immigrating to the United States at 17. Her work has been published in “Best American Short Stories” and she is a recipient of fellowships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 2020, she founded the mutual aid group Bed-Stuy Strong. “All This Could Be Different” is her first novel.

The Aspen Words Literary Prize 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.

BROWSE BY YEAR

2022 Winner

“The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton

2021 Winner

“The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich

2020 Winner

2020 Winner

2019 Winner

“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones

2018 Winner

“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid