The finalists for the first-ever Aspen Words Literary Prize were announced Monday morning and include three novels and two short story collections. The finalists are Lesley Nneka Arimah, Zinzi Clemmons, Mohsin Hamid, Samrat Upadhyay, and Jesmyn Ward. Armiah and Clemmons are debut authors.

To be eligible for the prize, works of fiction had to be short stories or novels that address violence, inequality, the environment, immigration, religion, race, or other social issues. The works also had to be published in English in the US. Finalists were selected by a five-member jury consisting of  Stephen Carter, an Aspen Institute trustee, New York Times-bestselling novelist, and law professor at Yale; Jessica Fullerton, a librarian and longtime participant in Aspen Words programs; Phil Klay, a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War and author of the 2014 National Book Award-winning short story collection Redeployment; Alondra Nelson, dean of social science at Columbia University and author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome; and Akhil Sharma, author of the PEN/Hemingway Award–winning novel An Obedient Father and the 2015 Folio Prize–winning novel Family Life.

The recipient of the award—presented by Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute, in collaboration with NPR Books—will receive $35,000, one of the largest prizes in the literary world for a work of fiction. Along with the cash prize, the winning author will receive a trophy designed by sculptor Michael Lorsung of the Anderson Ranch Arts Center and be the featured guest at the Aspen Summer Words benefit dinner on June 19 at the Hotel Jerome.

The winner will be announced on April 10 at an awards ceremony at the Morgan Library in New York City. All five finalists will join a discussion with Michel Martin, weekend host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” The host of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” Linda Holmes, will emcee the awards ceremony. Tickets available at

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