Winner announced during a daylong virtual celebration featuring all five finalists
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Aspen, CO, April 16, 2020 ––Today, Christy Lefteri was named winner of the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize (AWLP) for her novel The Beekeeper of Aleppo, about Syrian refugees in Great Britain. 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.
Lefteri was notified during an online conversation that was published on aspenwords.org earlier in the day. She provided the following remarks in a virtual acceptance speech:
“[Literature] opens portals to other worlds and gives us hope… It shows we have the power to change things we might not think we do, but we do. Change starts to happen with a shift in perception and perspective. In this way, literature can be a powerful catalyst… I hope my book shines a light on refugees everywhere in the world.”
AWLP head judge Esmeralda Santiago said of The Beekeeper of Aleppo: “With the first sentence, ‘I am afraid of my wife’s eyes,’ we enter a world too visible for the protagonists who can’t, nevertheless, turn away. How do human beings process the horror around them, the senseless violence, the loss of what we hold dearest? Is it possible to ever feel safe, to love, to appreciate beauty? Christy Lefteri asks these questions of her characters, and ultimately, of us.”
In addition to the best-selling The Beekeeper of Aleppo, which is published by Ballantine Books, Lefteri is the author of the novel A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible. Brought up in London, she is the child of Cypriot refugees. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee center in Athens. Lefteri is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University.
The prize was presented in collaboration with media partner NPR Books. For its first two years, the award was presented live at a ceremony at The Morgan Library in New York City. When the Aspen Institute had to cancel the in-person ceremony due to Covid-19, Aspen Words decided to bring the 2020 celebration online.
The daylong virtual celebration included one-on-one video interviews with Lefteri, as well as the other four finalists: Brian Allen Carr (Opioid, Indiana) Nicole Dennis-Benn (Patsy), Valeria Luiselli (Lost Children Archive) and Bryan Washington (Lot). Along with the winner announcement and acceptance speech, the celebration also included a recorded conversation between Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur and Aspen Institute President Dan Porterfield about the role of literature in the age of pandemic. All video content is available here: http://www.aspenwords.org/programs/literary-prize/
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 April 2018 for Exit West, his novel about migration and refugees. Tayari Jones received the 2019 award for An American Marriage, her novel about wrongful incarceration. 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 2020 prize included Alexander Chee, Amy Garmer, Saaed Jones, Helen Obermeyer and Esmeralda Santiago. In addition to a cash award, the winner of the AWLP receives a unique trophy designed by sculptor Michael Lorsung of the Anderson Ranch Arts Center near Aspen, Colorado.
More information about the Aspen Words Literary Prize, along with video content from the April 16 virtual celebration, is available at: http://www.aspenwords.org/programs/literary-prize/
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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 www.aspenwords.org/.
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. The Institute is based in Washington, DC and Aspen, Colorado. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.