“The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories” by Jamil Jan Kochai Wins $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize

April 19, 2023

Winner announced at the 6th annual awards celebration in New York City

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

New York, NY, April 19, 2023 – This evening at a ceremony at The Morgan Library in New York City, Jamil Jan Kochai was named winner of the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize (AWLP) for The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories, a powerful short story collection about Afghans, Afghan Americans and the surreal, violent aftershocks of state violence. Kochai began the book in 2016 as the American War in Afghanistan was approaching its 15th year. He had seen and heard the devastating effects of the war on family members in Afghanistan and felt compelled to write about it.

“My entire life, I’d grown up with my family’s stories about this small village in Logar, Afghanistan. Many of these stories were joyous and beautiful, but just as often, they were immensely violent…there was almost no written record of the occurrence of these historical massacres, especially in English. It was incredibly disconcerting to think that the memory of these atrocities might be lost to time, and I [wanted] to make my own small effort to make sure these stories were preserved in some manner,” said Kochai. In crafting the collection, Kochai focused specifically on the way that he, as an American citizen, felt implicated in the violence.

In a citation, the AWLP jury said about The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories 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.”

As part of the awards program, Kate Tuttle, executive editor, books, at People Magazine, moderated a conversation with Kochai and two finalist authors: Manuel Muñoz (The Consequences) and Angie Cruz (How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water). Finalists Oscar Hokeah (Calling for a Blanket Dance) and Sarah Thankam Mathews (All This Could Be Different) were unable to attend the event due to prior commitments.

A recording of the awards ceremony is available here: https://www.youtube.com/live/Gt4pEUG9EsM?feature=share

This summer, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories will be featured in a Community Read program sponsored by Aspen Words and Pitkin County Library in Colorado. As part of the program, several hundred free copies of the novel will be distributed in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado.

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 award for The Final Revival of Opal and 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.

The jury for the 2023 prize included Rumaan Alam, Chris Bryan, Omar El Akkad, Teresa Goddu and Dawnie Walton. In addition to a cash award, the winner of the AWLP receives a unique trophy designed by sculptor Leah Aegerter of Aspen, Colorado.

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More information about the Aspen Words Literary Prize is available at http://www.aspenwords.org/programs/literary-prize/

Download book jacket, author headshot, social graphics, prize logo:
https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fo/qz361hxjg4hqbkina7i2j/h?dl=0&rlkey=2ypgnx3ss35jyy02v8bc f6adp

Questions or requests for author interviews can be directed to:
Mallory Kaufman, Program Associate Aspen Words | The Aspen Institute
Phone: 970-925-3122 ext. 2


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. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

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