Announcing the 2020 Class of Emerging Writer Fellows

February 27, 2020  • Aspen Words

Aspen Words is pleased to announce its 2020 class of Emerging Writer Fellows. The fellowship program was established to support new literary voices demonstrating exceptional talent and promise. Candidates are nominated by writers, agents, editors and others associated with publishing. This year, Aspen Words received 259 nominations, more than ever before, and awarded 10 fellowships. Fellows receive a full scholarship to attend the Aspen Summer Words writers conference in June, including tuition, airfare, lodging, and some meals.

They will join aspiring writers from across the country for writing workshops taught by acclaimed authors, meetings with publishing experts, panels on writing and creativity, as well as readings and networking events. Past fellows have gone on to win prestigious literary awards and receive major book deals following Summer Words. Meet our 2020 fellows:

2020 Emerging Writer Fellows

'Pemi Aguda’Pemi Aguda is from Lagos, Nigeria. She has an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan, where she is currently a fellow. Her writing has won a 2018 Henfield Prize, a 2019 Tyson Prize, Hopwood Awards, and the 2015 Writivism Prize. She received a 2018 Bread Loaf Writers Conference work-study scholarship, an Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship from the Carl Brandon Society to attend the 2019 Clarion Workshop, and a 2019 Juniper Summer Workshop scholarship. Her stories appear in Granta, American Short Fiction and Zoetrope: All-Story, among others.

Lee Cole

Lee Cole was born and grew up in rural Kentucky. A recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he now lives and teaches in Iowa City. His work has appeared in the Cimarron Review and earned an Honorable Mention in Oxford American’s debut fiction contest.

Shasta Grant is the author of the flash fiction chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home. She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest, judged by Ann Patchett, and the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellowship. She has received residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project and her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Little Fiction, wigleaf, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is an editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.


Mikelle Adgate is a writer who works in environmental policy and public affairs.  She has a BA from Pace University where she studied political science and women & gender studies and an MPA from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.  She lives in Harlem and is currently working on a memoir about race, forgiveness, and faith.

Madeline KinkelMadeline Kinkel is a writer and translator. She holds a master’s degree in religion and gender from Harvard Divinity School and is a Fulbright award recipient. She is the author of the chapbook This Cup, Bursting With Step, and her writing has appeared in Yemassee Journal, Nightingale Magazine, and Catcall: A Feminist Quarterly. Along with her other projects, she is currently collaborating with Ainsley Morse on an English translation of Lida Yusupova’s poetry, forthcoming from Cicada Press.

Kate O'NeillIn  2018, Kate O’Neill’s youngest sister, Madelyn, died while incarcerated after struggling for more than a decade with opioid-use disorder. After the obituary Kate wrote of her sister went viral, she was invited to spend a year covering the opioid crisis for a newspaper in Vermont, the state where she and her sisters grew up. The award-winning series covered issues that affected her sister directly, such as sex trafficking and the impact of opioid use on families with young children, as well as broader subjects, like addiction in rural communities and the history of the epidemic in Vermont. Kate is now writing a book about Madelyn and her family’s experience loving her. She lives in Philadelphia with her partner and stepdaughter and has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns fellow.

Middle Grade

Vivian DeRoseaVivian DeRosa is from the Jersey Shore. She is a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and received Governor’s Awards for her prose and poetry. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Lunch Ticket, The Louisville Review, and Poets Reading the News. She is a rising sophomore at Smith College, where she studies English. Currently, she is working on a novel.

Personal Essay

Nadia Q. AhmadNadia Q. Ahmad is a poet, writer, and editor born and raised in New York and currently based in Queens. Her work has been published in The Shoreline Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, Newtown Literary, SpliceLit, AAWW Open City, and The Margins. She is a VONA/Voices and Kweli Journal workshop alum. Having been involved in various community initiatives in arts & culture in New York City, Nadia has worked as a program associate at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, an editorial fellow at Poets & Writers, and serves on the board of the Bangladesh Institute of Performing Arts. She also facilitates a variety of writing workshops in the NYC area.


Kai DavisKai Davis is a Black Queer writer, performer and teaching artist from Philadelphia. Kai received her BA in both Africana Studies and English with a concentration in creative writing from Temple University. Her work explores Blackness, Queerness, womanhood, and the many ways these identities converge. Kai has performed for TEDx Philly, CNN, BET, PBS, and NPR, among others. She is a two-time international grand slam champion, winning Brave New Voices in 2011 and The College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in 2016. Her work has been published in The Shade Journal and The Offing. In 2017 Kai received the Leeway Transformation Award for her years of art for social change work in Philadelphia.

Liza FlumLiza Flum’s poems appear in Narrative, The Southeast Review, Lambda Literary, The Tampa Review, and other journals. She is a recipient of a Barbara Deming Individual Artist Grant, and her work has been supported by fellowships from the Saltonstall Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. She holds an MFA in poetry from Cornell, and she is currently a Ph.D. student in literature and creative writing at the University of Utah, where she is a Vice Presidential Research Fellow.

Announcing the 2020 Aspen Words Literary Prize Finalists
February 18, 2020 • Aspen Words