Aspen Words today announced the longlist for the inaugural Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for a work of fiction with social impact. The 20 longlisted titles include 12 novels and eight short story collections, and cover a variety of pressing issues—from immigration and inequality, to climate change, mental illness, incarceration, and cultural identity. Five finalists for the prize will be named in March 2018, and the winner will be revealed at a ceremony in New York City on April 10. All announcements are made in collaboration with NPR Books, the official media partner for the award.
Following are 20 writers telling stories that need to be heard, with artistry and humanity. This is a year-end reading list that promises to expand perspectives and elevate literature as a platform for meaningful dialogue and social change. Join the conversation about influential literature with #AspenLitPrize.
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Hala Alyan was born in 1986. After living in various parts of the Middle East, she completed a doctorate in psychology and now divides her time between private practice and teaching at New York University. She has been published in Guernica and other literary journals, and is the award-winning author of three poetry collections and the novel Salt Houses. She lives in New York City.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. She has been a finalist for a National Magazine Award and the Caine Prize, and a winner of the African Commonwealth Short Story Prize and an O. Henry Award, among other honors. She lives in Minneapolis. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is her first book.
The Accusation by Bandi
Bandi, which means “firefly” in Korean, is a pseudonym for a writer who is still living in his homeland of North Korea. The Accusation, which was written in secret and smuggled out of the country, is his only published book to date. Deborah Smith is the Man Booker International Prize–winning translator of The Vegetarian by Han Kang and other books.
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is a British-Japanese-Chinese-American novelist. She received a BA from Columbia University in New York, and currently resides in the UK. Harmless Like You was a New York Times Editors’ Pick and won a Betty Trask Award.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
Zinzi Clemmons was raised in Philadelphia by a South African mother and an American father. She is a graduate of Brown and Columbia universities, and her writing has appeared in Zoetrope: All Story, The Paris Review Daily, Transition, and elsewhere. She is a cofounder and former publisher of Apogee Journal, a contributing editor to Literary Hub. She has been in residence at the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Dar al-Ma’mûn, Morocco. Clemmons lives in Los Angeles with her husband.
The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins
Curtis Dawkins grew up in rural Illinois and earned an MFA in fiction writing at Western Michigan University. He has struggled with alcohol and substance abuse through most of his life and, during a botched home robbery, killed a man on Halloween 2004. Since late 2005, he’s served a life sentence with no possibility of parole in various prisons throughout Michigan. He has three children with his partner, Kim, who is a writing professor living in Portland, Oregon. The Graybar Hotel is his first book.
The Locals by Jonathan Dee
Jonathan Dee is the author of six previous novels, most recently A Thousand Pardons. His novel The Privileges was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the 2011 Prix Fitzgerald and the St. Francis College Literary Prize. A former contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a senior editor of The Paris Review, and a National Magazine Award-nominated literary critic for Harper’s, he has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Syracuse, New York.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Harper’s Bazaar, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and New York Times bestselling Hunger: A Memoir of My Body. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid is the internationally bestselling author of Exit West, Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and Discontent and its Civilizations. His award-winning novels have been adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and translated into more than thirty languages. His essays and short stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker, among many other publications. Hamid now resides in Lahore, his birthplace, after living for a number of years in New York and London.
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
Megan Hunter was born in Manchester in 1984, and now lives in Cambridge with her young family. She has a BA in English Literature from Sussex University, and an MPhil in English Literature: Criticism and Culture from Jesus College, Cambridge. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and she was a finalist for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award with her short story “Selfing.” The End We Start From is her first book.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Lisa Ko’s fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, Apogee Journal, Narrative,Copper Nickel, the Asian Pacific American Journal, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, and Blue Mountain Center, among others. She was born in New York City, where she now lives.
The Devil and Webster by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Jean Hanff Korelitz was born and raised in New York and graduated from Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is The New York Times bestselling author of five novels and creator of BOOKTHEWRITER, a New York City-based service that sends authors to book groups. In 2016 she and her husband (Irish poet and The New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon) adapted and co-produced “The Dead, 1904,” an immersive adaptation of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” for New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre.
Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
Alain Mabanckou was born in Congo in 1966. An award-winning novelist, poet, and essayist, Mabanckou currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches literature at UCLA. He is the author of African Psycho, Broken Glass, Black Bazaar, and Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty, as well as The Lights of Pointe-Noire, and Black Moses (both published by The New Press). In 2015, Mabanckou was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. The Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, he lives in Los Angeles.
The Tower of the Antilles by Achy Obejas
Achy Obejas is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Ruins, Days of Awe, and three other books of fiction. She edited and translated (into English) the anthology Havana Noir, and has since translated Junot Díaz, Rita Indiana, Wendy Guerra, and many others. In 2014, she was awarded a USA Ford Fellowship for her writing and translation. The Tower of the Antilles is her latest work.
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner
Vaddey Ratner is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Her critically acclaimed bestselling debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, was a Finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and has been translated into seventeen languages. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Cornell University, where she specialized in Southeast Asian history and literature. Her most recent novel is Music of the Ghosts.
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Shanthi Sekaran teaches creative writing at California College of the Arts, and is a member of the Portuguese Artists’ Colony and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Best New American Voices and Canteen, and online at Zyzzyva and Mutha Magazine. A California native, she lives in Berkeley with her husband and two children.
Mad Country by Samrat Upadhyay
Samrat Upadhyay was born and raised in Nepal. He is author of 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.
Chemistry by Weike Wang
Weike Wang is a graduate of Harvard University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry and her doctorate in public health. She received her MFA from Boston University. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Alaska Quarterly Review, Glimmer Train, The Journal, Ploughshares, Redivider, and SmokeLong Quarterly.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and was a recipient of a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, which won the 2011 National Book Award. She is also the author of 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 lives in Mississippi.