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16 books make Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist

$35,000 prize honors new fiction for its social impact

Staff report






Aspen Words on Wednesday announced the 16 longlisted books for its annual Aspen Words Literary Prize. The $35,000 award goes to a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue.

The 2021 finalists are:

•“Radiant Fugitives” by Nawaaz Ahmed (Counterpoint Press)



•“What Strange Paradise” by Omar El Akkad (Knopf)

•“The Arsonists’ City” by Hala Alyan (HMH Books)




•“The Startup Wife” by Tahmima Anam (Scribner)

•“What Storm, What Thunder” by Myriam J.A. Chancy (Tin House)

•“A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself” by Peter Ho Davies (HMH Books)

•“Swimming Back to Trout River” by Linda Rui Feng (Simon & Schuster)

•“Libertie” by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Algonquin)

•“Abundance” by Jakob Guanzon (Graywolf Press)

•“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Harper Collins)

•“Hell of a Book” by Jason Mott (Dutton)

•“Things We Lost to the Water” by Eric Nguyen (Knopf)

•“Bewilderment” by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton)

•“The Five Wounds” by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton)

•“Bewilderness” by Karen Tucker (Catapult)

•“The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton (37 Ink)

Eight of the longlisted titles are debuts and more than half the books were published by small and mid-size independent presses. This year’s jury for the prize — Angie Cruz, Danielle Evans, Ann Friedman, Kiese Laymon and Pádraig Ó Tuama — will read all longlisted books to determine the five finalists and winner.

“This year marks the fifth cycle of the Aspen Words Literary Prize and it’s been thrilling to watch the prize gain in recognition and acclaim each year,” Aspen Words executive director Adrienne Brodeur said in the announcement. “The 16 novels that comprise this year’s longlist explore questions of freedom and identity, exile and belonging, and are set against the ravages of colonialism, consumerism and classism. But what makes these works so powerful is how the stories are told through the multidimensional lens of family —nuclear, relational, parentless, childless—revealing how tenderness and tenacity shape outcome.”

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; and Louise Erdrich won the 2021 award for “The Night Watchman,” about Native American dispossession.

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 short list of five finalists will be announced Feb. 23, 2022. The winner will be named April 23.


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