On February 17, Aspen Words will announce the shortlist for the fourth annual Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 award recognizing a work of fiction that addresses a vital social issue. Fifteen works are still in the running, and the diverse list includes 13 novels and two short story collections. While the jury works on narrowing down this list to five finalists and a winner, Aspen Words chatted with the nominees about their work, how they view their role as a writer in the cultural and political moment, and the best piece of writing advice they’ve received.
Bryan Washington is a National Book Award 5 Under 35 honoree and the author of the story collection Lot. His latest work, Memorial is not a typical post-story collection debut literary door-stopper—it’s a riot to read, tackling big issues but with humor and real people and an electric energy. It’s a love story with real sex, a rom-com with teeth. Themes of sexual orientation, love, and race drive this story and make it an important book.
How do you view your role as a writer in this cultural and political moment, and why is the time right for your book?
It’s a privilege to tell stories for the communities you care for—insofar as there’s a “role” attached, it’s to do that as best I can. And I’m not a fan of “timely” or “urgent” as descriptors for books. If it means something to whoever’s reading it, whenever that is, then it’s the right time for them.
What is the core tenet of your book’s philosophy?
Many different things can be true simultaneously.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received on writing fiction?
Which books have brought you hope or solace, or expanded your awareness over the last year?
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyaasi; Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri; Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby; Almond by Son Won-Pyeong; Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier; Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang; Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam; The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet; Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoka Matsuda.