The Issue-Driven Aspen Words Literary Prize: 2023 Shortlist

In News by Porter Anderson

The Aspen Words Literary Prize shortlist of five fiction titles highlights ‘essential books’ that each address ‘a vital contemporary issue.’

Shortlisted authors for the Aspen Words Literary Prize are, upper row from left, Angie Cruz, Oscar Hokeah, and Jamil Jan Kochai. On the lower row are Manuel Muñoz and Sarah Thankam Mathews

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

Brodeur: ‘These Five Books Will Crack You Open’
While the first major world publishing trade show of the year, the  Bologna Children’s Book Fair, powers into its second day in Italy, one of the United States’ most important literary prizes has named its shortlist

If anything, the Aspen Words Literary Prize captures much of what the thousands upon thousands of young readers’ books in Bologna might dream of growing up someday to be: socially meaningful fiction for adults who care about their world, its crises and potentials.

Paying a handsome US$35,000 to its winner, the program under Adrienne Brodeur‘s executive direction searches unapologetically for “an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.”

The program’s uncompromising approach makes it a bright standout in a world choked with entertainment, pointless comedy, police procedurals, and feel-good sentimentality.

Works that are considered for this award include, according to the organizers’ media messaging, “novels or short-story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, racism, or other social issues.”

In other words, the work of the Aspen Words competition is an antidote to much of the frivolous expression that pervades so many reads today. This is serious fiction for a world that doesn’t always like its serious times.

A jury has now worked the longlist down to a five-title shortlist. That jury comprises Rumann Alam, a 2021 Aspen finalist; Chris Bryan; Omar El Akkad, a 2022 AWLP finalist; Teresa Goddu; and Dawnie Walton, who won the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize.

Adrienne Brodeur

“These five books will crack you open as only great works of fiction can,” says Brodeur in the release of the list today (March 6) “but they will also make you contemplate issues and have conversations you might otherwise never have. They are essential books to read during this moment in history.”

The $35,000 winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on April 19 at the Morgan Library in New York City. The event will feature a conversation with the finalists, moderated by Kate Tuttle, executive editor of books at People magazine. Tuttle previously was a books columnist at the Boston Globe for more than a decade.

Penguin Random House’s Viking has two of the five shortlisted titles. You may recall that both Sarah Thankam Mathews’ All This Could Be Different and The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories were also shortlisted in the fiction category for the 2022  National Book Awards.

The 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize Shortlist

Author Title Publisher, Imprint
Angie Cruz How Not To Drown in a Glass of Water: A Novel Macmillan / Flatiron Books
Oscar Hokeah Calling for a Blanket Dance Workman / Algonquin
Jamil Jan Kochai The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories Penguin Random House / Viking
Manuel Muñoz The Consequences Graywolf Press
Sarah Thankam Mathews All This Could Be Different: A Novel Penguin Random House / Viking

Aspen Words is a literary center founded under the aegis of the Aspen Institute.


More from us on the Aspen Words Literary Prize is here, more on the American book business is here. More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing awards programs is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.