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    Here are the finalists for the 2024 Aspen Words Literary Prize.

    Literary Hub

    March 13, 2024, 11:01am

    Today, Aspen Words announced the five finalists for the 2024 Aspen Words Literary Prize, which awards $35,000 each year to “a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.” The shortlist was chosen by a jury consisting of Lan Samantha Chang, Christina Baker Kline, Anthony Marra, Chinelo Okparanta and Simran Jeet Singh.

    Here are the finalists, along with what the jury had to say about them:

    Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Chain-Gang All-Stars

    Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Chain-Gang All-Stars (Pantheon)

    “In Chain-Gang All-Stars, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah helps us see what’s hiding in plain sight: the moral depravity of racism, mass incarceration and capitalistic violence—and the human capacity to rationalize it all. The action-packed storytelling draws in the reader, reminding us all that this dystopian future is not so far from our current reality. Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel is as provocative as it is illuminating, putting it in the company of classics such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.”

    Aaliyah Bilal, Temple Folk (Simon & Schuster)

    “In Temple Folk, Aaliyah Bilal gives us 10 sublime stories about spiritual loss and renewal among a cast of Black American Muslims. Bilal’s humane portrayals of ethical struggle deserve comparison to the short fiction of Anton Chekhov and Edward P. Jones, even as she demonstrates, on page after page, a vision and voice entirely her own. Temple Folk is that rarest of collections, one that leaves both its characters and its readers transformed.”

    Jamel Brinkley, Witness

    Jamel Brinkley, Witness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    “These 10 superb short stories create complex and intimate portraits of characters whose lives have been marked, shaped and haunted by the act of bearing witness. In beautifully observed prose, Brinkley explores turning points of relationships with family members, friends and lovers. Set in the boroughs of contemporary New York, this profoundly moral collection explores the challenge of perception and the responsibility of love.”

    Isabella Hammad, Enter Ghost

    Isabella Hammad, Enter Ghost (Grove Press)

    “In elegant, nuanced prose, Isabella Hammad tells the story of Sonia Nasir, a stage actress living in London who returns to her homeland of Palestine to visit her sister, Haneen, after many years away, and finds herself roped into a production of Hamlet in the West Bank. Exploring themes of diaspora, displacement and the search for identity, Hammad constructs a world rich in texture and emotion. A poignant narrative of resilience and the quest for belonging, Enter Ghost is a dazzling story of self-discovery against the backdrop of displacement.”


    James McBride, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store (Riverhead Books)

    “A richly populated tour de force, The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store tells a poignant tale about Chicken Hill, Pennsylvania—a melting pot of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from across various social classes, racial backgrounds and walks of life. James McBride masterfully weaves a captivating narrative around this eclectic mix of characters, delving into the politics of race and class with grace and humor. Ultimately, the story offers a powerful exploration of community, humanity, action versus inaction, kindness against wickedness, and, most notably, poetic justice.”

    The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Thursday, April 25 at The Morgan Library in New York City, free to the public and hosted by NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly.


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