Aspen Institute Announces the Longlist for the 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize

November 10, 2020

Fifteen titles are in the running for the $35,000 award recognizing fiction that addresses vital contemporary issues; NPR Books to return as award’s official media partner

Contact: Elizabeth Nix
Senior Program Associate | Aspen Words
970-925-3122 ext. 4 |

Aspen, CO, November 10, 2020 – Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute, today announced the longlist for the Aspen Words Literary Prize (AWLP), a $35,000 annual award for a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue.

  • Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham (Catapult)
  • Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa (Atria Books)
  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (Harper Collins/Ecco)
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books)
  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Harper Collins)
  • Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera (Feminist Press)
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Riverhead Books)
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (Harper Collins)
  • The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans (Riverhead Books)
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • If I Had Two Wings: Stories by Randall Kenan (W.W. Norton & Company)
  • A Children’s Bible: A Novel by Lydia Millet (W.W. Norton & Company)
  • A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Tin House)
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Riverhead Books)
  • Memorial by Bryan Washington (Riverhead Books)

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The 15 longlisted titles include 13 novels, five of them debuts, and two short story collections. Though the majority of books on the list came from Big Five publishing houses, some small presses, including Tin House, Catapult and Feminist Press, also were represented on the longlist for the first time.

The jury for the prize—Emily Bernard, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Daniel Shaw and Luis Alberto Urrea, —will read all longlisted books to determine the five finalists and winner. Aspen Words announced the longlist in collaboration with NPR Books, the official media partner for the award.

“The books on this longlist examine subjects that cut across racial, economic, political and sexual divides,” said Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur. “In the pages of these books, we read about many of the issues that are playing out before our eyes during this time of social upheaval — climate collapse, government breakdown, racism and sexism. And therein lies the power of reading fiction: to create empathy and allow us to imagine better ways of existing.”

About the Aspen Words Literary Prize

The $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize is awarded annually to an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. Open to authors of any nationality, the award is one of the largest literary prizes in the United States, and one of the few focused exclusively on fiction with a social impact. The inaugural award was presented to Mohsin Hamid in 2018 for Exit West, his novel about migration and refugees. Tayari Jones won the 2019 prize for An American Marriage, her novel about racism and unjust incarceration, and Christy Lefteri received the 2020 prize for her novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo, about Syrian refugees. Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, racism or other social issues.

The finalists will be announced on February 17, 2021, and the winner will be revealed at a virtual awards celebration the week of April 19, 2021. | | #AspenLitPrize

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Aspen Words was founded in 1976 as a literary center based in Aspen, CO. A program of the Aspen Institute, its mission is to encourage writers, inspire readers, and connect people through the power of stories. For more information, visit 

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most critical challenges facing communities at home and around the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit


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