Tayari Jones is the winner of the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize for her novel An American Marriage. The award, which is one of the largest literary prizes in the United States, was established by the Aspen Institute to honor a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.
“An American Marriage is a gripping novel about the dissolution of a marriage. But beneath the surface of this deeply moving love story is a powerful statement about unjust incarceration and a corrupt criminal justice system that has ravaged generations of African-American families,” the jury said. “Writing with poignancy and humor, Jones offers a much-needed meditation on issues of race, class, identity — and shows us how to move forward after a great loss.”
Jones told the Institute she doesn’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched by the broken American justice system. “Prison and jail are woven into the fabric of our culture,” she said. “Sometimes awareness of a problem can hit you like a lightning bolt, but with this issue, there was no lightning bolt. It has been raining all my life.”
In addition to the best-selling An American Marriage, which is published by Algonquin Books, Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling and Silver Sparrow, which was added to the NEA Big Read Library in 2016. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer and The New York Times, among other publications. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, Jones has been a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Awards in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a United States Artists Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship and other awards. A graduate of Spelman College, the University of Iowa, and Arizona State University, she is a professor of creative writing at Emory University.
The winner was announced live at an awards ceremony at The Morgan Library in New York City, and featured a conversation with the finalist authors, moderated by National Public Radio’s Renee Montagne (NPR is a media partner on the award). Finalists included Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black), David Chariandy (Brother), Jennifer Clement (Gun Love) and Tommy Orange (There There). You can watch the full ceremony below: