Aspen Institute Announces the Five Finalists For the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize

February 25, 2022

Five novels are in the running for the $35,000 award


Contact: Mallory Kaufman
Program Associate | Aspen Words
970-925-3122 ext. 2 |

Aspen, CO, February 25, 2022 – Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute, today announced the finalists for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for a work of fiction that illuminates vital contemporary issues.

The 2022 shortlist:

  • The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan (HMH / Harper Collins)
  • The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton (37 Ink / Simon & Schuster)
  • The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton & Company)
  • What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chancy (Tin House)
  • What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad (Knopf / Penguin Random House)

The five shortlisted titles are novels, one of them a debut (The Final Revival of Opal and Nev), that address a broad range of important contemporary social issues, including the global migrant crisis, the trauma of natural disasters and racism in America. The finalists— Hala Alyan, Myriam J.A. Chancy, Omar El Akkad, Kirstin Valdez Quade and Dawnie Walton were selected by a four-member jury including Angie Cruz, Danielle Evans, Ann Friedman and Kiese Laymon.

“The five finalists were chosen from an incredibly impressive longlist of 16 titles,” said Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur. “Several of these works speak to concerns in the current zeitgeist, while others remind us of disasters from the recent past that define our present and demand renewed attention.”

The $35,000 winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Thursday, April 21 at The Morgan Library in New York City. The event will feature a conversation with the finalists moderated by Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of “All Things Considered,” NPR’s award-winning evening newsmagazine. Kelly is also a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of two novels.

For more about the finalist authors and books, visit:



The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan (HMH / Harper Collins)
The Arsonists’ City is the sharply drawn and compelling story of one family and the years of tenderness and betrayal that tether them to one another, but it also tells a sweeping story about the afterlife of violence, displacement, and upheaval. Alyan expertly balances her portrait of the way early dreams and parts of the self can vanish in adulthood with an exploration of how quickly home or a sense of normalcy can vanish or shift for an entire population, how easily a person, a city, or a way of life can become at once familiar and unrecognizable.

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton (37 Ink / Simon & Schuster)
As innovative in form as it is soulful in delivery, The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is a dazzling exploration of the spectacular and eerie complications of the way race, gender and punk rock necessarily collide. What can these collisions produce? The book is a tutorial in the possibilities and terrifying limitations of an interracial duo who seem to move in two very different directions upon their breakup. Dawnie Walton blurs the lines between revelation and realization in a book that witnesses, and really undulates under, the weight of professional and personal secrets, while picking away at the very real desire for American progress with few substantial models for reciprocal American reckoning.

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton & Company)
The Five Wounds is a gorgeous and openhearted novel full of vivid characters whose lives tell an illuminating story about addiction, self-improvement schemes, and what happens when the purveyors of social services are more invested in their own validation than in what they might promise the people who need them most. At the heart of this book is Angel, a pregnant teenager repeatedly asked to accept the unacceptable and settle for less. Kirstin Valdez Quade gives her the grace of the hard-won knowledge that she deserves to ask for more.

What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chancy (Tin House)
Myriam Chancy’s poignant and haunting novel, What Storm What Thunder, is a searing portrait of the earthquake of 7.0 magnitude that shook the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010, leaving over a quarter million dead. Through the chorus of ten unforgettable characters the novel relentlessly and movingly retells the story of the earthquake, urging us to remember and rethink disaster. The devastation and catastrophic loss in Haiti could happen to any of us as we face climate emergency—regardless of where we live this book is testimony to how our lives are entwined and how community is essential for our collective survival.

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad (Knopf / Penguin Random House)
The world was shocked by the 2015 photo of a Syrian child lying dead on a beach after a boat carrying him and other migrants shipwrecked. Seven years later, the shipwrecks, drownings, and migrant crisis continue. Omar El Akkad’s alternately dream-like and photo-realistic novel, What Strange Paradise, imagines a similar journey of a Syrian boy and an ark of fellow refugees. In spare, unsparing prose, El Akkad limns the callousness and kindness of his characters, lifting them off the front page and bringing them fully to life and forcing us to respond.


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; Christy Lefteri received the 2020 prize for her novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo, about Syrian refugees; and Louise Erdrich won the 2021 award for The Night Watchman, about Native American dispossession. Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, racism or other social issues. | | #AspenLitPrize

Download author headshots and book jackets:

Aspen Words Literary Prize logo:

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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