The Aspen Words Literary Prize is an annual award for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. A vital contemporary issue is a problem that influences a considerable number of individuals within a society. It is often the result of factors extending beyond an individual’s agency, requiring the consideration of society as a whole to confront or solve the issue.
The selection jury has chosen Opioid, Indiana by Brian Allen Carr, Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn, The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, and Lot by Bryan Washington as finalists for the award.
The finalists will be honored and the winner announced at an Awards Ceremony in New York City on April 16th.
Opioid, Indiana by Brian Allen Carr
During a week-long suspension from school, a teenage transplant to impoverished rural Indiana searches for a job, the whereabouts of his vanished drug-addicted guardian, and meaning in the America of the Trump years.
Seventeen-year-old Riggle is living in rural Indiana with his uncle and uncle’s girlfriend after the death of both of his parents. Now his uncle has gone missing, probably on a drug binge. It’s Monday, and $800 in rent is due Friday. Riggle, who’s been suspended from school, has to either find his uncle or get the money together himself. His mission exposes him to a motley group of Opioid locals-encounters by turns perplexing, harrowing, and heartening. Meanwhile, Riggle marks each day by remembering the mythology his late mother invented for him about how the days got their names.
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Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it’s the culmination of years of yearning to be reunited with Cicely, her oldest friend and secret love, who left home years before for the “land of opportunity.” Patsy’s plans do not include her religious mother or even her young daughter, Tru, both of whom she leaves behind in a bittersweet trail of sadness and relief. But Brooklyn is not at all what Cicely described in her letters, and to survive as an undocumented immigrant, Patsy is forced to work as a bathroom attendant, and ironically, as a nanny. Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, Tru struggles with her own questions of identity and sexuality, grappling every day with what it means to be abandoned by a mother who has no intention of returning. Passionate, moving, and fiercely urgent, Patsy is a haunting depiction of immigration and womanhood, and the silent threads of love stretching across years and oceans.
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The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
Nuri is a beekeeper and Afra, his wife, is an artist. Mornings, Nuri rises early to hear the call to prayer before driving to his hives in the countryside. On weekends, Afra sells her colorful landscape paintings at the open-air market. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the hills of the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo—until the unthinkable happens. When all they love is destroyed by war, Nuri knows they have no choice except to leave their home. But escaping Syria will be no easy task: Afra has lost her sight, leaving Nuri to navigate her grief as well as a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece toward an uncertain future in Britain.
Nuri is sustained only by the knowledge that waiting for them is his cousin Mustafa, who has started an apiary in Yorkshire and is teaching fellow refugees beekeeping. As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss but dangers that would overwhelm even the bravest souls. Above all, they must make the difficult journey back to each other, a path once so familiar yet rendered foreign by the heartache of displacement.
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The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home. Why Apaches? asks the ten-year-old son. Because they were the last of something, answers his father.
In their car, they play games and sing along to music. But on the radio, there is news about an “immigration crisis”: thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained—or lost in the desert along the way.
As the family drives—through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas—we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure—both in the desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations.
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Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington
In the city of Houston – a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America – the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys.
Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods: a young woman whose affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, a reluctant chupacabra.