Aspen Institute Announces 2022 Judges for Aspen Words Literary Prize

June 9, 2021

Kiese Laymon, Danielle Evans, Pádraig Ó Tuama to serve on five-member panel


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

Aspen, CO June 9, 2021 – The Aspen Institute announced the judges for the fifth cycle of the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for a work of fiction that addresses vital contemporary issues.

The submission process for the award opened June 7 and will run through August 6. Publishers are invited to electronically submit book-length works of fiction, including novels, short story collections and translations, published in the United States in 2021. A preliminary selection committee will read the nominations before the longlist is announced in November. A five-member jury will then determine the finalists and the winner in the first quarter of 2022.

The judges include novelist and editor Angie Cruz, who also is an associate professor in the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh; Danielle Evans, author and 2021 winner of The New Literary Project Joyce Carol Oates Prize; Ann B. Friedman, founder and CEO of Planet Word and a director of the American Alliance of Museums; Kiese Laymon, whose best-selling memoir, “Heavy: An American Memoir,” won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times; and Pádraig Ó Tuama, an Irish poet and theologian who presents the podcast “Poetry Unbound” with On Being Studios.

Endowed in perpetuity by an anonymous donor, the Aspen Words Literary Prize has been awarded to Mohsin Hamid (2018) for his novel “Exit West,” Tayari Jones (2019) for her novel “An American Marriage,” Christy Lefteri (2020) for her novel “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” and Louise Erdrich (2021) for her novel “The Night Watchman.”  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 are thrilled to see how this prize, now in its fifth cycle, has expanded in reach and prestige. We’ve awarded authors whose novels have exposed us to issues including the global refugee crisis, unjust incarceration in America and the history of Native dispossession in the United States,” said Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur.  “Each year we look forward to celebrating literature that is driven by a moral calculus and that, in turn, drives conversation and thought. We are excited for what the 2022 prize cycle has in store.”

2022 Jury

Angie Cruz is a novelist and editor. Her novel, “Dominicana,” was the inaugural book pick for GMA book club and chosen as the 2019/2020 Wordup Uptown Reads. It was shortlisted for The Women’s Prize, longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction, The Aspen Words Literary Prize, a RUSA Notable book and the winner of the ALA/YALSA Alex Award in fiction. It was named most anticipated/ best book in 2019 by Time, Newsweek, People, Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Esquire. Cruz is the author of two other novels, “Soledad” and “Let It Rain Coffee” and the recipient of numerous fellowships and residencies including the Lighthouse Fellowship, Siena Art Institute and the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Fellowship. She’s published shorter works in The Paris Review, VQR, Callaloo, Gulf Coast and other journals. She’s the founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning literary journal Aster(ix) and is an associate professor at University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches in the MFA program.

Danielle Evans is the author of the story collections “The Office of Historical Corrections” and “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.” Her first collection won the PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Hurston-Wright award for fiction and the Paterson Prize for fiction; her second was a finalist for The Aspen Words Literary Prize, The Story Prize, The Chautauqua Prize and The Los Angeles Times Book prize for fiction. She is the 2021 winner of The New Literary Project Joyce Carol Oates Prize, a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts fellow and a 2011 National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies including “The Best American Short Stories” and “New Stories From The South.” She teaches in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. 

Ann B. Friedman is the founder and CEO of Planet Word and the developer behind the restoration of the Franklin School, the museum’s home. Her interest in literacy began with a lifelong love of reading, early work as a copy editor and translator, and a later career as a beginning reading and writing teacher in the Montgomery County Public Schools. From 2010-2016, she served as the Chair of the Board of the SEED Foundation, the parent body of the nation’s only public, inner-city, college-prep boarding schools, where she currently serves as Vice Chair. Ms. Friedman is a founding board member of the Downtown DC Foundation and recently became a director of the American Alliance of Museums. She is co-vice chair of the Aspen Music Festival and School and has served on the board of the National Symphony Orchestra for more than a decade in various roles. She is also an emerita director of Conservation International and serves on the Advisory Board of Ascend, the Aspen Institute’s program that takes a two-generation approach to ending family financial insecurity. 

Kiese Laymon is a Black southern writer from Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon is the author of the genre-bending novel “Long Division” and the essay collection “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.” Laymon’s best-selling memoir, “Heavy: An American Memoir,” won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the 2018 Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose, the Austen Riggs Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media and was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times. The audiobook, read by the author, was named the Audible 2018 Audiobook of the Year. Laymon is the recipient of 2020-2021 Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard. Laymon is at work on several new projects, including the long poem, “Good God,” the horror comedy, “And So On,” the children’s book, “City Summer, Country Summer” and the film “Heavy: An American Memoir.” He is the founder of “The Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Initiative,” a program aimed at getting Mississippi kids and their parents, more comfortable reading, writing, revising and sharing. 

Pádraig Ó Tuama is an Irish poet and theologian whose work centers around themes of language, power, conflict and religion. He is the author of four books of poetry and prose: “Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community,” “In the Shelter,” “Sorry for your Troubles” and “Readings from the Books of Exile.” He presents the podcast Poetry Unbound with On Being Studios, where he also has responsibilities in bringing art and theology into public and civic life. From 2014-2019 he was the leader of the Corrymeela Community, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation community. He is based in Ireland. | |

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 a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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