On April 16, Aspen Words will confer the third annual Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 award recognizing a work of fiction that addresses a vital social issue. Sixteen nominees are still in the running, and the diverse list includes 12 novels and four short story collections covering a variety of critical issues and published by an array of presses. While the jury works on narrowing down this list to five finalists (to be announced February 19) 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. You can find the series of conversations here.
Bryan Washington’s debut story collection, Lot, is set in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States and a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America. Here, the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence, and discovering he likes boys. Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods. With soulful insight into what makes a community, a family, and a life, Lot explores trust and love in all its unsparing and unsteady forms.
How do you view your role as a writer in this cultural and political moment, and why is the time right for your book?
Insofar as anyone has a particular role as a writer, I’d say that mine’s to tell the best stories that I can, about the communities that I care about, to the best of my abilities. That’s it. It’s a privilege and an honor to get to do that in any capacity, let alone to have an audience.
What other author deserves this award and why?
Each nominee wrote an indelible book. “Deserve” is a word that gives me hives.
What is the core tenet of your book’s philosophy?
Giving your neighbors the benefit of the doubt.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received on writing fiction?