In April 2018, an audience of New York literati and a smattering of Aspen Words board members and supporters gathered in the Gilder Lehrman Hall at The Morgan Library on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue to watch as the inaugural winner of the annual Aspen Words Literary Prize was revealed.
Few were surprised when Mohsin Hamid was named winner of the $35,000 prize for his much-celebrated novel . Endowed in perpetuity by an anonymous donor, the award, one of the largest literary prizes in the United States, was established to honor a work of fiction that, according to Aspen Words, “illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.” Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, race or other social issues.
“The book is my attempt to write against this growing anti-migrant sentiment,” said Hamid. “I wanted to portray migrants as heroes, not criminals. But more than that, I wanted to show that everyone is a migrant, even those who never move geographically, because moving through time, aging, is itself a form of migration.”
Hamid, who was not present at the New York ceremony, made an appearance at the nonprofit’s summer gala. Aspen Words will host this year’s winner, Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage, in a public talk June 18, during its Summer Words Writers Conference &
“I view writing partly as an act of citizenship—of having a stake in our collective humanity, our common future,” said Hamid of the award. “The Aspen Words Literary Prize meant a great deal to me because it values this crucially important aspect of writing. We write alone, but we are all in this world together.”
Jones, the second winner of the prize, was at the 2019 ceremony in New York to receive it in mid-April. To expand on the program, Aspen Words will host a series of events as part of a community read program and honor the winning novel with free copies of the book, to be distributed in May.
2019 Aspen Literary Prize winner Tayari Jones.
2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize Finalists
by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
by David Chariandy
by Jennifer Clement
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones
by Tommy Orange
Photography by: Joe Carrotta, courtesy of the aspen institute