The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich Wins $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize

April 21, 2021

Winner announced during virtual awards celebration featuring all five finalist books

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

Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager I The Aspen Institute
202-909-5720 |

Aspen, CO, April 21, 2021 –This evening, Louise Erdrich was named winner of the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize (AWLP) for her novel The Night Watchman, which is based on the life of her grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from North Dakota to Washington, D.C.  The award, which is one of the largest literary prizes of its kind 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.

In recorded remarks that capped off a virtual awards ceremony, Erdrich accepted the award on behalf of her grandfather, who was “one of the dwindling number of first speakers of the Ojibwe language, in addition to all his activism.” She said, “this particular award will go to assist in the revitalization of the Ojibwe language.”

AWLP judge and author Luis Alberto Urrea called The Night Watchman:

“A magisterial summation of [Erdrich’s] influential work while at the same time setting a new foundation for the future. A historical novel that is also a story of love, a familial chronicle, a book about Indigenous community and anti-tribal animus, it opens worlds incessantly. It can move from comedic visions of eccentric boxers to terrifying stories of the disappearances of Native women, hints of ghost stories and a prophetic explosion of violence inside the nation’s capital city. It is a wise and transformative masterwork.”

In addition to The Night Watchman, which is published by Harper Collins, Erdrich is the author of sixteen novels, volumes of poetry, children’s books and a memoir of early motherhood. Her fiction has won the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award (twice) and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, she lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

The prize was presented in collaboration with media partner NPR Books. As part of the awards program, Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” moderated a conversation with Erdrich and three of the finalist authors: Susan Abulhawa (Against the Loveless World), Rumaan Alam (Leave the World Behind) and Danielle Evans (The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories). The program also paid tribute to the work of finalist Randall Kenan (If I Had Two Wings: Stories), who passed away in 2020.

The entire awards ceremony is available here:

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, race or other social issues. The jury for the 2021 prize included Emily Bernard, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Daniel Shaw and Luis Alberto Urrea. In addition to a cash award, the winner of the AWLP receives a unique trophy designed by sculptor Leah Aegerter of the Anderson Ranch Arts Center near Aspen, Colorado. | | #AspenLitPrize

More information about the Aspen Words Literary Prize is available at:

Download book jacket, author headshot, prize logo:

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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

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