Jamil Jan Kochai Wins $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize

In News by Porter Anderson

Jamil Jan Kochai wins the Aspen Words Literary Prize for his short stories focused on the absurdity and violence Afghans have endured.

Jamil Jan Kochai, winner of the 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize for his work focused on wartorn Afghanistan, speaks at the Morgan Library in New York City, April 19, before being given the prize. Image: Aspen Words

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

‘Surreal, Violent Aftershocks’
Overnight in New York City on Wednesday evening (April 19), the Aspen Words Literary Prize has announced that author Jamil Jan Kochai has won its US$35,000 honor for his The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories (Penguin Random House / Viking).

In the program’s customary ceremony at the Morgan Library, Kochai’s story collection has been praised not least for the fact of its long-project investment. Kochai began the work 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.

The jury, in its rationale, writes, “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.”

The Aspen Words 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.

We can review for you here the shortlist, and then will add video from the ceremony in New York.

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.