Last night, Louise Erdrich was named the winner of the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize, established by the Aspen Institute to honor a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. Erdrich won for her novel The Night Watchman, based on the life of her grandfather, a night watchman who fought against Native dispossession from North Dakota to Washington, D.C.
Prize judge and author Luis Alberto Urrea called The Night Watchman “A magisterial summation of [Erdrich’s] influential work while at the same time setting a new foundation for the future. A historical novel that is also a story of love, a familial chronicle, a book about Indigenous community and anti-tribal animus, it opens worlds incessantly . . . a wise and transformative masterwork.”
At a virtual awards ceremony presented in collaboration with NPR Books, Erdrich accepted the prize on behalf of her grandfather, who was “one of the dwindling number of first speakers of the Ojibwe language, in addition to all his activism.” Said Erdrich, “This particular award will go to assist in the revitalization of the Ojibwe language.”
The awards ceremony also included a moderated conversation with Erdrich and three of the finalists—Susan Abulhawa, Rumaan Alam, and Danielle Evans. The ceremony can be watched in full here.