Five finalists for the third annual Aspen Words Literary Prize were announced today, and the shortlist includes four novels and a short-story collection. The finalists, chosen from among several hundred submissions that were narrowed down to 16 long-listed titles, are Brian Allen Carr (Opioid, Indiana), Nicole Dennis-Benn (Patsy), Christy Lefteri, (The Beekeeper of Aleppo), Valerie Luiselli (Lost Children Archive), and Bryan Washington (Lot). Washington is a debut author.
To be eligible for the prize— presented by Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute, in collaboration with NPR Books—works of fiction had to address a contemporary issue with social impact, showcasing literature’s transformative power. This year’s finalists take on drug addiction, homophobia, immigration, and income inequality, among other subjects. The works also had to be published in English in the US.
Previous award winners are Mohsin Hamid (Exit West) in 2018 and Tayari Jones in 2019 (An American Marriage).
Finalists were selected by a five-member jury consisting of novelist and poet Alexander Chee, Director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries Amy Garmer, poet and memoirist Saeed Jones, longtime Aspen Words supporter Helen Obermeyer, and author (and head judge) Esmeralda Santiago.
The award recipient 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 a featured guest at Aspen Summer Words (June 21–26).
The winner will be announced on April 16 at an awards ceremony at New York City’s Morgan Library. All five finalists will join a discussion moderated by Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Additionally, in late spring, the Pitkin County Library will offer free copies of the winning title for a community reads program that will include a valley-wide book club event, discussions, and other activities. Tickets for the awards ceremony are available here.