Aspen Institute Announces 2020 Judges for Aspen Words Literary Prize

June 5, 2019

NPR to return as the media complement for the fiction award’s third year

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

Contact: Isabel Lara
Senior Director, Media Relations | NPR
202-513-2300‪ | 

Aspen, CO, June 5, 2019 – The Aspen Institute announced the judges for the third cycle of the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for a work of fiction that addresses vital contemporary issues. As the award’s media complement, NPR will jointly announce the longlist, finalists and winner.

The submission process for the award opened May 20th and will run through August 2nd. Publishers are invited to submit works of fiction, including novels, short story collections and translations, published in the United States in 2019. A preliminary selection committee will read the nominations (there were close to 200 in 2018) before the longlist is announced in November. A five-member jury will then determine the finalists and the winner in the first quarter of 2020. The Awards Ceremony and panel conversation with finalist authors will take place in New York City on April 16, 2020.

The judges include writer and professor Alexander Chee, author of the novels “Edinburgh,” “The Queen of the Night,” and the essay collection “How To Write An Autobiographical Novel;” Amy Garmer, the founding director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries; Saeed Jones, a literary activist whose debut poetry collection “Prelude To Bruise” was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award; Helen Obermeyer, whose career spans work in the financial services industry to television show production; and Esmeralda Santiago, the best-selling memoirist of “When I Was Puerto Rican,” “Almost A Women” and “The Turkish Lover.”

Endowed in perpetuity by an anonymous donor, the Aspen Words Literary Prize has been awarded to Mohsin Hamid (2018) for his novel “Exit West,” as well as Tayari Jones (2019) for “An American Marriage.” The prize is one of the largest purses given by a literary award. The mission of the award is to recognize an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.

“We’re proud to work with NPR on the third annual Aspen Words Literary Prize,” said Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur. “Our previous winners illuminated pressing social justice issues – the refugee crisis in “Exit West” and wrongful incarceration in “An American Marriage” – with artistry and compassion. We look forward to receiving another round of submissions that spark dialogue and build bridges amongst readers in the year ahead.”

As the media complement on the award, NPR will provide outreach support and visibility to the prize. “Our audience research tells us that NPR listeners love to read, so we are thrilled to be working with the Aspen Institute again to ensure these important works of contemporary fiction reach as many readers as possible,” says Senior Supervising Editor of NPR’s Arts Desk Ellen Silva.

2020 Jury

Alexander Chee is the author of the novels “Edinburgh,” “The Queen of the Night,” and the essay collection “How To Write An Autobiographical Novel.” He is a contributing editor at The New Republic, and an editor at large at VQR. His essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, T Magazine, The New Yorker, and Best American Essays 2016 and 2019, among others. He is winner of a 2003 Whiting Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in prose, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the VCCA, and Civitella Ranieri. He teaches as an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.

Amy Garmer has spent two decades in public policy at the leading edge of new media, communications and information technologies.  She is the founding director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, a multi-year initiative that brings together leaders and innovators from diverse stakeholder groups to foster new collaborations with public libraries and to re-envision more equitable community knowledge and civic infrastructures. She has written widely on subjects ranging from education and technology, the future of journalism, advertising and ethnic media, and advancing freedom of expression. Previously, she served as Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and as Director of Journalism Projects. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Garmer served on the staff of US Senator Sam Nunn. She holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia.

Saeed Jones’
 debut poetry collection Prelude To Bruise was the winner of the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award For Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award, and a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award. The collection was also a finalist for 2015 awards from the Lambda Literary and the Publishing Triangle. His memoir, “How We Fight For Our Lives,” will be published by Simon & Schuster in the Fall of 2019.

Born and raised in Cold Spring Harbor, Shelter Island and New York City, Helen Obermeyer has lived in Colorado for 16 years. Following university, she worked for DLJ (Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette) for ten years in their fixed income banking and then institutional sales departments. After switching careers in 1992, she produced shows for Apple, IBM and the NFL before relocating to London for another job in finance.  Following her move to Colorado, she worked for the New York-based firm Guggenheim Partners. Now retired, she devotes her time to Alpine Legal Services, the legal aid organization serving the Roaring Fork Valley, various political campaigns and to Aspen Words.

Esmeralda Santiago is the best-selling author of the acclaimed memoirs “When I Was Puerto Rican,” “Almost A Woman”—which she adapted into a Peabody Award-winning film for PBS Masterpiece Theatre—and “The Turkish Lover.” She’s written the illustrated children’s book, “A Doll for Navidades,” and is co-editor of the anthologies “Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories” and “Las Mamis: Favorite Latino Authors Remember their Mothers.” She’s the author of two novels: “América’s Dream,” also adapted into a film, and “Conquistadora.” Her books have been translated into twelve languages. She’s currently working on a novel. | | #AspenLitPrize

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


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 an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, CO; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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