Aspen Words Literary Prize finalists announced |

Aspen Words Literary Prize finalists announced

Four novels and one short story collection were named finalists for the Aspen Words Literary Prize on Wednesday morning.

The $35,000 annual award goes to a work of fiction that illuminates vital contemporary issues.


The shortlisted books are: “Friday Black” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah; “Brother” by David Chariandy; “Gun Love” by Jennifer Clement; “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones and “There There” by Tommy Orange.

Two of the finalists, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah and Tommy Orange, are debut authors, while David Chariandy, Jennifer Clement and Tayari Jones have all published previous books to critical acclaim. The finalists were selected by a five-member jury including Dorothy Allison, Suzanne Bober, Farah Griffin, Elliot Gerson and Samrat Upadhyay, who was a finalist for the prize last year.

The shortlisted titles address social issues in America and the world such as racial inequality, class disparities and gun violence.

“These books tackle societal problems with humor and large doses of compassion,” said Upadhyay, the head judge. “Most important, they are all beautifully written books filled with compelling characters, striking imagery and attention to detail that made them such a pleasure to read.”

The $35,000 winner will be announced live at an awards ceremony in New York City at The Morgan Library on Thursday, April 11. The finalists will participate in a conversation moderated by Renee Montagne of NPR News.

Tickets are available at Additionally, in late spring, Aspen Words, in partnership with the Pitkin County Library, will distribute free copies of the winning book for a community read program in Aspen, to feature discussions and other activities.



“Friday Black” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Pulsing with a beauty that is bold and unrelenting, Friday Black is an uncompromising look at the ailments of our time. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah delivers punches in story after story that awaken us to our absurd realities: brutal racism, murderous consumerism, copycat school shootings. “Friday Black” is filled with humor and a fierce intelligence. It also proves, once and for all, that the form of the short story is perfectly capable of taking on our political urgencies.


“Brother” by David Chariandy
Brother is as heart-wrenching as it is beautiful. This is a story of love and compassion between and for characters relegated to the margins because of their class, their color, their immigrant status. These characters are full of longing and disappointment: parents who want more for their children, and children who seek to create themselves, art and a better world.  They do so in a context that constantly tries, and all too often succeeds, in destroying them.  And yet, driven by love, they insist on their humanity.


“Gun Love” by Jennifer Clement

In Gun Love, Jennifer Clement gives us 14-year-old Pearl, who has grown up on the front seat of a ‘94 Mercury next to a trailer park in central Florida—a place she knows is nowhere. Here is delicious lyrical language, sudden violence and compelling characters who might save you and then again might not. And yes, guns—guns in the hands of people for whom “life is always like shoes on the wrong feet.” This is a scary, heartrending story, stinking of cordite and mildew—like a tantalizing phone call from the underclass.


“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage is a gripping novel about the dissolution of a marriage. But beneath the surface of this deeply moving love story is a powerful statement about unjust incarceration and a corrupt criminal justice system that has ravaged generations of African-American families. Writing with poignancy and humor, Jones offers a much-needed meditation on issues of race, class, identity—and shows us how to move forward after a great loss.


“There There” by Tommy Orange

In this heartrending debut by Tommy Orange, a member of the Cherokee and Arapaho tribes, we journey with an extraordinary cast of “urban Indians” to a huge powwow in Oakland, California. From a daring opening essay to a harrowing finale, the novel is an explosion of poetry and violence, hope and despair. Questions of identity and authenticity, loss and discovery, tradition and escape are woven brilliantly together in this tour de force about the continuing shame of America’s treatment of its Native people.

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