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Exclusive: Brit Bennett, Yaa Gyasi Among Contenders For Aspen Words Literary Prize

The Aspen Words Literary Prize honors fiction that "illuminates a vital contemporary issue."
Erin Baiano
Aspen Words
The Aspen Words Literary Prize honors fiction that "illuminates a vital contemporary issue."

The 15 nominees for this year's Aspen Words Literary Prize span the globe and the headlines — from Uganda to Palestine to Miami to rural North Dakota, and even a nameless Wilderness that's not quite in the world we know.

Wherever they are, the characters in these novels are grappling with issues that we're all familiar with, whether in headlines or in our own lives.

"The books on this longlist examine subjects that cut across racial, economic, political and sexual divides," Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur said in a statement.

"In the pages of these books, we read about many of the issues that are playing out before our eyes during this time of social upheaval — climate collapse, government breakdown, racism and sexism. And therein lies the power of reading fiction: to create empathy and allow us to imagine better ways of existing."

This year's mix includes novels and short stories, five of which are debuts. Three small presses make their appearance on the list for the first time. In addition, Bryan Washington is making a return appearance; he was a finalist just last year for his acclaimed debut story collection Lot.

The $35,000 prize is given annually to a work of fiction that "illuminates a vital contemporary issue." It's open to authors of any nationality; this year's winner will join previous honorees Mohsin Hamid, Tayari Jones and Christy Lefteri.

This year's jurors — Emily Bernard, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Daniel Shaw and Luis Alberto Urrea — will winnow down the list to a group of five finalists, to be announced February 17, 2021, and a winner, who'll be revealed in a virtual ceremony in April.

Here's the list, with links to our coverage:

  • Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham
  • Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa
  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
  • Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
  • The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  • If I Had Two Wings: Stories by Randall Kenan
  • A Children's Bible: A Novel by Lydia Millet
  • A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  • Memorial by Bryan Washington
  • You can find more information about the finalists on the Aspen Words site.

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