“The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories” by Jamil Jan Kochai Wins Aspen Words Literary Prize

April 19, 2023  • Aspen Words

On April 19, Jamil Jan Kochai was named as winner of the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize (AWLP) for The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories, a powerful short story collection about Afghans, Afghan Americans and the surreal, violent aftershocks of state violence. Kochai began the book in 2016 as the American War in Afghanistan was approaching its 15th year. He had seen and heard the devastating effects of the war on family members in Afghanistan and felt compelled to write about it.

The AWLP is a $35,000 prize awarded annually to an influential work of fiction that highlights a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.

The five finalists were selected by a five-member jury comprised of Rumaan Alam, Chris Bryan, Omar El Akkad, Teresa A. Goddu and Dawnie Walton, and announced in early March. “These five books will crack you open as only great works of fiction can, but they will also make you contemplate issues and have conversations you might otherwise never have,” said Aspen Words executive director Adrienne Brodeur. “They are essential books to read during this moment in history.”

Open to candidates from any nationality, the Aspen Words Literary Prize is one of the largest literary prizes in the US and one of the few dedicated exclusively to literature with a social impact. The awards ceremony is free and open to attend in person at New York City’s Morgan Library) and virtually. The evening will feature a conversation with the finalists moderated by Kate Tuttle, executive editor of books at People magazine. Register for the ceremony here.

WHEN: Wednesday, April 19 at 6:30 pm Eastern. Doors open at 6:00 pm.
WHERE: The Morgan Library, 225 Madison Ave, New York City, or virtually
HOW: Free registration at:

Meet the Finalists

How Not To Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz (Flatiron-Macmillan)
Set in the Great Recession, this novel explores what it means to survive in America when America is both home and the furthest thing from home. Structurally inventive, the characters’ emotional resiliency and brightness in the face of struggle stay with readers long after the book ends.

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah (Algonquin)
Oscar Hokeah writes beautifully from multigenerational perspectives about identity, belonging, and struggle in a world and American societal structures that never gave its protagonist, Ever Gaimausaddle, a safe place to call home. This is his debut novel.

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking-PRH)
A collection of 12 short stories, Jamil Jan Kochai writes masterfully about the consequences of war, state-sponsored violence, and displacement through his Afghan and Afghan Americans characters.

The Consequences: Stories by Manuel Muñoz (Graywolf Press)
Vividly depicting the lives of farm workers in California’s Central Valley in the 1980s, Muoz’s first novel in a decade details the individual stories behind the immigrant labor responsible for feeding the U.S. and the routine violence they face.

All This Could Be Different: A Novel by Sarah Thankam Mathews (Viking-PRH)
A 2022 National Book Award Finalist, Thankam Mathew’s novel is an equally witty and tender look at queer love, connection, and the fragility of surviving in modern America. A thoughtful and moving portrait of an immigrant’s journey to find herself and a home where she can live authentically.

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