Aspen Words Prize Longlist of 16 Titles for 2019 Prize in Issue-Driven Fiction

In News by Porter AndersonLeave a Comment

This is the second year of operation for the Aspen Words Literary Prize, which stresses fiction that has social impact, work specifically addressing contemporary issues.

Aspen Words Literary Prize

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Aspen Words’ Longlist Includes 13 Debuts
The Aspen Institute’s Aspen Words Literary Prize—which rewards work addressing “a vital contemporary issue”—has released its longlist, in the US$35,000 award program for fiction.

Unusual for its focus on socially relevant fiction—a winner must be a book that addresses “vital contemporary issues”—the program is based in the institute’s Aspen Words program, founded in 1976, producer of the upcoming Winter Words events scheduled as writers’ talks in January, February, and March.

This is among the States’ newest literary award programs: the 2019 prize cycle is its second.

The 16 longlisted titles for 2018—some of them quite familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers, such as Gun Love by Jennifer Clement and Small Country by Gaël Faye—include 11 novels and five short story collections. Thirteen longlisted works are debuts.

2018 Aspen Words Literary Prize Longlist

  • Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner Books)
  • The Boat People by Sharon Bala (Doubleday)
  • A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley (Graywolf Press)
  • America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo (Viking)
  • Brother by David Chariandy (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Gun Love by Jennifer Clement (Hogarth)
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove Press)
  • Small Country by Gaël Faye (Hogarth)
  • Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson (Soho Press)
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books)
  • The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (Riverhead Books)
  • Severance by Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • Bring Out the Dog by Will Mackin (Random House)
  • There There by Tommy Orange (Knopf)
  • If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel (Flatiron Books)
  • Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Atria/37 INK)
‘The Transformative Power of Literature’

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. Putting a finer point on that social-impact distinction, the award’s documentation refers to a winner as a work that “demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.”

The inaugural award was presented to Mohsin Hamid in April 2018 for Exit West (Penguin Random House/Riverhead, 2017), his novel about migration and refugees.

Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, race or other social issues.

Adrienne Brodeur

In a prepared statement about this year’s longlist, Adrienne Brodeur, Aspen Words’ executive director, is quoted, saying, “It’s astonishing to see the number of debut authors on this list; new voices can often help us see the world more clearly, with a different perspective.

“Many of the topics covered in these books are in the news cycle—gun violence, immigration, police brutality, Native American culture. Fiction allows us to examine these issues with more compassion.

“I hope that this list will help get these books in more readers’ hands, while also sparking meaningful dialogue around some of our greatest challenges today.”

The finalists will be announced on February 20, 2019 and the winner will be revealed at an Awards Ceremony at the Morgan Library in New York City on April 11.

Jurors for the 2019 Aspen Words prize cycle are Dorothy Allison, Suzanne Bober, Elliot Gerson, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Samrat Upadhyay.

While the Aspen Words program is based in Aspen, Colorado, the Aspen Institute is, of course, the policy and educational think tank program in Washington, DC, with a campus in Colorado and on Maryland’s Wye River. NPR, National Public Radio, is currently media partner with Aspen Words for the prize program.


More from Publishing Perspectives on international awards programs is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter Google+

Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

Leave a Comment