Novel Use

October 1, 2019  • Institute Staff

In May, Aspen Words and the Pitkin County Library launched The Community Read, a program to start conversations about the books that win the Aspen Words Literary Prize, an annual $35,000 award for a work of fiction that illuminates a vital social issue. This year, that honor went to Tayari Jones for An American Marriage, a novel about a wrongfully convicted African American man and his family. To ignite the conversation about the novel’s themes—including racial discrimination and mass incarceration—Aspen Words distributed 300 free copies of the novel to residents of Aspen and neighboring cities. Book lovers then gathered at the Pitkin County Library in June for a book-club-style discussion. Later that month, Community Read participants heard from the author in person as Jones spoke with Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur before a sold-out audience in Aspen. Jones discussed “the collateral effects of wrongful imprisonment” and how the national tragedy of mass incarceration touches all Americans. The Community Read culminated in July with a “Beyond the Book” panel featuring legal experts Meryl Chertoff, the outgoing executive director of the Institute’s Justice and Society Program; Anne-Marie Moyes, the director of the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado; and Jennifer Wherry, the executive director of Alpine Legal Services in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. The panelists used An American Marriage to talk about inequality in the US justice system, why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and how criminal-justice reform can help. The Community Read brought the Aspen Words Literary Prize mission to life—sparking thoughtful conversation around one of America’s most challenging issues.