Today, Aspen Words announced the longlist for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue. The 14 longlisted titles include seven fiction debuts and five short story collections.
“The AWLP celebrates exceptional works of fiction that expand perspectives and build compassion around critical human, social and global concerns,” said Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur. “The powerful books on this longlist tell stories that are set against or address directly the climate crisis, racism, xenophobia, and mental health, among others, and feature a range of dynamic voices, including debut as well as established authors.”
The jury for the prize—Rumaan Alam (a 2021 AWLP finalist), Chris Bryan, Omar El Akkad (a 2022 AWLP finalist), Teresa Goddu, and Dawnie Walton (the 2022 AWLP winner)—will read all longlisted books to determine the five finalists and winner. The 2023 finalists will be announced on March 6, and the winner will be revealed at an awards celebration at the Morgan Library in New York City on April 19.
Learn more about the 2023 Aspen Worlds Literary Prize nominees and their works:
Fatimah Asghar is a poet, filmmaker, educator, and performer. She is the writer and co-creator of Brown Girls, an Emmy-nominated web series that highlights friendships between women of color. When We Were Sisters traces the intense bond of three orphaned siblings who, after their parents die, are left to raise one another. The book tenderly examines the bonds and fractures of sisterhood, names the perils of being three Muslim American girls alone against the world, and ultimately illustrates how those who’ve lost everything might still make homes in one another.
NoViolet Bulawayo is the author of We Need New Names which has been recognized with numerous literary awards. She grew up in Zimbabwe and now teaches at Stanford University as a lecturer in fiction. Her most recent novel, Glory, follows the fall of the Old Horse, the long-serving leader of a fictional country, and the drama that follows a rumbustious nation of animals on the path to true liberation. Inspired by the unexpected fall of Zimbabwe’s former president Robert G. Mugabe, the novel unveils the ruthlessness required to uphold the illusion of absolute power and the bulletproof optimism to overthrow it completely.
Angie Cruz is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aster(ix), a literary and arts journal, and is an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. Her most recent novel, How Not To Drown in a Glass of Water is her most ambitious and moving novel yet. It follows Cara Romero who, after losing her job, begins to narrate the story of her life to a job counselor. Over the course of twelve sessions, Cara recounts her tempestuous love affairs, her alternately biting and loving relationships with her neighbor Lulu and her sister Angela, her struggles with debt, gentrification, and loss, and, what really happened between her and her estranged son, Fernando.
Jonathan Escoffery is a Ph.D. fellow in the University of Southern California’s Creative Writing and Literature Program. If I Survive You is his debut book. The work unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in a world at the mercy of capitalism and whiteness. With If I Survive You, Escoffery announces himself as a chronicler of American life at its most gruesome and hopeful.
Mohsin Hamid is a two-time Booker Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author. He won the 2018 Aspen Words Literary Prize for his novel Exit West. Hamid lives in Lahore, Pakistan. In his latest work, The Last White Man, the man character wakes up one morning to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them. The novel expands our capacity for empathy and the transcendence over bigotry, fear, and anger it can achieve.
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. Calling For a Blanket Dance is his first novel. It follows a young Native American man finding strength in his familial identity. Part Mexican, part Native American, Ever Geimausaddle’s family is determined to hold onto their community despite obstacles everywhere they turn. Honest, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, the story tells how he finds his way home.
Ladee Hubbard is an author born in Massachusetts and raised in the US Virgin Islands and Florida. She currently lives in New Orleans. The thirteen gripping tales in The Last Suspicious Holdout deftly chronicle poignant moments in the lives of an African American community located in a “sliver of southern suburbia.” Spanning from 1992 to 2007, the stories represent a period during which the Black middle class expanded while stories of “welfare Queens,” “crack babies,” and “super predators” abounded in the media. Characters spotlighted in one story reappear in another, providing a stunning testament to the enduring resilience of Black people as they navigate the “post-racial” period the book vividly portrays.
Jamil Jan Kochai is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He was born in an Afghan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, but originally hails from Logar, Afghanistan. The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories explores characters grappling with the ghosts of war and displacement—and one that speaks to the immediate political landscape we reckon with today. These arresting stories verge on both comedy and tragedy, often starring young characters whose bravado is matched by their tenderness.
Talia Lakshmi Kolluri was born and raised in Northern California and currently lives in California’s Central Valley. What We Fed to the Manticore is her debut collection. The book explores themes of environmentalism, conservation, identity, belonging, loss, and family with resounding hearts and deep tenderness through nine emotionally vivid stories, all narrated from animal perspectives. Kolluri’s pages speak to the fears and joys of the creatures we share our world with and ultimately place the reader under the rich canopy of the tree of life.
Manuel Muñoz is the author of two previous collections and a novel. A native of Dinuba, California, he now lives in Tucson, Arizona. The exquisite stories in The Consequences are mostly set in the 1980s in the small towns that surround Fresno. With an unflinching hand, Muñoz depicts the Mexican and Mexican American farmworkers who put food on our tables but are regularly and ruthlessly rounded up by the migra, as well as the quotidian struggles and immense challenges faced by their families. The messy and sometimes violent realities navigated by his characters—straight and gay, immigrant and American-born, young and old—are tempered by moments of surprising, tender care.
Chinelo Okparanta’s works have won and been nominated for numerous awards. In 2017, she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Harry Sylvester Bird is a satire that speaks to all the most pressing tensions and anxieties of our time. Harry Sylvester Bird grows up in Edward, Pennsylvania, with his parents, whom he greatly dislikes. They’re racist, xenophobic, and financially incompetent. And his small town isn’t any better. He witnesses racial profiling, graffitied swastikas, and White Power signs on his walk home from school. When he is old enough to leave, he moves straight to New York City, where he meets and falls in love with Maryam, a young Nigerian woman. But when Maryam begins to pull away, Harry is forced to confront his identity as he never has before—if he can.
Tara M. Stringfellow is a poet and former attorney. After having lived in Okinawa, Ghana, Chicago, Cuba, Spain, Italy, and Washington, DC, she moved back home. Her first novel is named after her hometown. Memphis unfolds over seventy years through a chorus of unforgettable voices that move back and forth in time. The book paints an indelible portrait of inheritance, celebrating the full complexity of what we pass down, in a family and as a country: brutality and justice, faith and forgiveness, sacrifice and love.
Sarah Thankam Mathews grew up between Oman and India, immigrating to the United States at seventeen. In 2020, she founded the mutual aid group Bed-Stuy Strong. All This Could Be Different is her ﬁrst novel. It is a wise, tender, and riveting group portrait of young people forging love and community amidst struggle, and a moving story of one immigrant’s journey to make her home in the world.
Alejandro Varela is based in New York. He is a 2019 Jerome Fellow in Literature. The Town of Babylon is his first novel. The book is an intimate portrait of queer, racial, and class identity. Andrés, a gay Latinx professor, returns to his suburban hometown in the wake of his husband’s infidelity. Over the next few weeks, while caring for his aging parents and navigating the neighborhood where he grew up, Andrés falls into old habits with friends he thought he’d left behind. Before long, he unexpectedly becomes entangled with his first love and is forced to tend to past wounds. This modern coming-of-age story is about the essential nature of community, and young love, and is a close examination of our social systems and the toll they take when they fail us.