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.
Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan. Her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Jezebel, and her first novel The Mothers was a New York Times bestseller. Her latest work The Vanishing Half combines a riveting page-turner of love, abandonment, and betrayal with deep social and cultural insights about race and identity. Told from multiple perspectives, the novel skillfully empathizes with characters from all ages and walks of life.
How do you view your role as a writer in this cultural and political moment, and why is the time right for your book?
I want to write into hidden histories and I want to imagine different worlds. I think readers are ready to see stories about the types of characters that literature has typically ignored.
What is the core tenet of your book’s philosophy?
Identity is complicated.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Probably a lawyer or a literature professor.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received on writing fiction?
Write toward questions, not answers. Writing to explain what you already believe or think or know is far less interesting than writing toward what you’re wondering about.
Which books have brought you hope or solace, or expanded your awareness over the last year?
This year, I loved Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, and Hanif Abdurraqib’s forthcoming A Little Devil in America.