Aspen Institute Announces the Five Finalists for the 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize

March 6, 2023

Three novels and two story collections are in the running for the 2023 award

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

Aspen, CO, March 6, 2023 – Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute, today announced the finalists for the Aspen Words Literary Prize (AWLP), a $35,000 annual award for a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.

The 2023 shortlist:

  • How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz (Flatiron – Macmillan)
  • Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah (Algonquin)
  • The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking – PRH)
  • The Consequences: Stories by Manuel Muñoz (Graywolf Press)
  • All This Could Be Different: A Novel by Sarah Thankam Mathews (Viking – PRH)

The shortlisted titles include two short story collections and three novels, one from debut author, Oscar Hokeah. They address a broad range of important contemporary social issues, including the treatment of immigrant farmworkers, queer love, America’s wealth gap and the aftershocks of trauma that affect Native communities in the United States as well as war-torn countries like Afghanistan. The finalists— Angie Cruz, Oscar Hokeah, Jamil Jan Kochai, Manuel Muñoz and Sarah Thankam Mathews— were selected by a five-member jury comprised of Rumaan Alam, Chris Bryan, Omar El Akkad, Teresa A. Goddu and Dawnie Walton.

“These five books will crack you open as only great works of fiction can, but they will also make you contemplate issues and have conversations you might otherwise never have,” said Aspen Words executive director Adrienne Brodeur. “They are essential books to read during this moment in history.”

The $35,000 winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 19 at The Morgan Library in New York City. The event will feature a conversation with the finalists, moderated by Kate Tuttle, executive editor, books, at People Magazine. Tuttle previously was a books columnist at The Boston Globe for over a decade.


How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz (Flatiron – Macmillan)
In How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, Angie Cruz constructs an intimate portrait of life in the gears of the capitalist machine. Structurally inventive and flawless in register, this novel serves as a subtle meditation on what it means to survive in America when America is both home and the furthest thing from home. The result is a story of exquisite authenticity, an indictment of the myriad impossible hoops through which those not born into privilege are made, ceaselessly, to jump.

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah (Algonquin)
At once heartbreaking and hopeful, Calling for a Blanket Dance is one of those rare debuts that feels like the author’s tenth book. Written with absolute control and confidence, this is a generational saga that spans multiple characters and viewpoints, yet remains focused on the aftershocks of trauma, the way damage echoes across time and place. Oscar Hokeah writes beautifully about pain and belonging and the power of family, told through many interpretations of and interactions with its central character, the unforgettable Ever Geimausaddle.

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking – PRH)
Jamil Jan Kochai has written a stylistically audacious collection about Afghans, Afghan Americans and the surreal, violent aftershocks of state violence. In 12 masterful stories, Kochai manages both an indictment and de-centering of the West’s decades-long campaign of violence through which countless Afghans have suffered. There is no clean-cut prescriptivism here: these stories of lives lost and regained in the shadow of the war on terror years are as impossible to categorize as they are wondrous to read.

The Consequences: Stories by Manuel Muñoz (Graywolf Press)
As tender as they are unflinching, the stories in Manuel Muñoz’s brilliant collection offer a deeply human and quietly nuanced portrait of life in California’s Central Valley, where immigrant farmworkers do the often brutal work of keeping the United States fed. It’s difficult to overstate the depth of the characters that populate these stories – the fine shades of their desires and obligations, the things they want to do and the things they must.

All This Could Be Different: A Novel by Sarah Thankam Mathews (Viking – PRH)
Set against the backdrop of the great recession, All This Could Be Different is an honest, haunting and quite often hilarious novel. In beautifully constructed sentences, Thankam Mathews bares open the workings of a life during those precarious, brittle years during which the entire façade of modern life threatened to crumble. The result is a book about queer love, found families and the struggle to find meaning and place in a world where both seem so often just out of reach.


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; Louise Erdrich won the 2021 award for The Night Watchman, about Native American dispossession, and Dawnie Walton received the 2022 prize for The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, which explores identity, place, and the influence of pop culture. Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, racism or other social issues. | |

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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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