Tayari Jones Wins the Aspen Words Literary Prize

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times

Tayari Jones won the Aspen Words Literary Prize of the year 2019 for her novel ‘An American Marriage”. Jones was chosen for the award unanimously by the jury which included Dorothy Allison, Suzanne Bobber, Eliot Gerson, Farah Jasmine and Samrat Upadhyay as head judge. Interestingly, Samrat Upadhyay who chaired this year’s panel was a contender for the award last year. While congratulating Tayari Jones for winning the Aspen Words Literary Prize, Upadhyay mentioned that the novel ‘An American Marriage” wrote by Jones is ‘a book for the long haul”.

He expressed his hope that this novel will secure a place in the literary imagination for a long time. The Aspen Award is to honor literary works that highlight the burning issues faced by society. In the book ‘An American Marriage’ the focus is on wrongfully carried out mass incarceration as well as racial discrimination.

The Aspen Award and The Aspen Institute

The Aspen Award is one of the biggest literary awards in the US and the prize amount is $35000. This literary prize is awarded every year for the best literary work in which the power of literature to transform the thought and culture of the society is demonstrated by focusing on contemporary societal issues.

Two aspects of Aspen Award make it a great award – it is open to authors of any nationality and it is one among the rare literary awards for fiction that has social impact. Novels, as well as fictions that deal with race, gender, religion, environment, violence, inequality, immigration or any other social issue, are considered for this award. In 2018, the Aspen Award was won by Mohsin Hamid for his novel ‘Exit West’.

This novel is about refugees and immigration. Apart from Tayari Jones’ ‘An American Marriage’, the other literary works considered for this years’ Aspen Award were ‘Friday Black’ written by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, ‘Brother’ written by David Chariandy, Gun Love written by Jennifer Clement and ‘There There’ written by Tommy Orange. A conversation with the finalist authors was featured at the awards ceremony held at The Morgan Library in New York City.

Aspen Words is based in Washington DC, Aspen, CO and was founded in the year 1976 as a literary center. The Aspen Institute is an educational organization that encourages writers and tries to connect people through inspiring fictions and novels. The institute has a network of partners the world over.

Tayari Jones’ novel “An American Marriage’ is about the dissolution of a marriage. Through a deeply moving love story, the author boldly and effectively decries the unjust incarceration. Through this novel, Jones has successfully brought to light the corrupt criminal justice system that has inflicted great sufferings to many generations of African-American families. The AWLP jury mentioned that through this novel Tayari Jones shows us the way to proceed further after a great loss.

The jury admired the poignant as well as humorous writing by Jones which has provided us a meditation on issues related to race, class, and identity. Thanking Aspen Words for the Aspen Award, Tayari Jones said that an award of this kind encourages all to continue to follow the strength of our convictions. She also mentioned that she thanks Aspin Word for this particular award mainly because many of the writers who want to write about the burning issues faced by the society are in fact not encouraged to write about such issues. According to her, the writers are told that real art is not writing about such issues.

‘An American Marriage’ is published by Algonquin Books. The other novels written by Jones include ‘Leaving Atlanta’, ‘The Untelling’ and ‘Silver Sparrow’. ‘Silver Sparrow’ was added to the NEA Big Read Library in the year 2016. Jones writings were also published in Tin House, The New York Times, The Believer and in other publications. Tayari Jones is a professor of creative writing at Emory University. She graduated from Spelman College, University of Iowa and Arizona State University.

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