Awards that recognize fiction’s impact on society and culture

This past week two interesting, perhaps lesser-known book awards were given: The 83rd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and the inaugural Aspen Words Literary Prize.

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize fiction, nonfiction and poetry books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. The 2018 recipients are:

Fiction: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Anisfield-Wolf juror Joyce Carol Oates called this combination road novel and ghost story “a beautifully rendered, heartbreaking, savage and tender novel.”

Nonfiction: Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News by Kevin Young
Juror Steven Pinker calls Bunk “rich, informative, interesting, original and above all timely,” and Juror Joyce Carol Oates says “it should be required reading in all U.S. schools.”

Poetry: In the Language of My Captor by Shane McCrae
Juror Rita Dove says “These voices worm their way inside your head; deceptively simple language layers complexity upon complexity until we are shared in the same socialized racial webbing as the African exhibited at the zoo or the Jim Crow universe that Banjo Yes learned to survive in (‘You can be free//Or you can live’).”

Lifetime Achievement Award: N. Scott Momaday
Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. says Momaday “is at root a storyteller who both preserves and expands Native American culture in his critically praised, transformative writing.”

The Aspen Words Literary Prize awards an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. The inaugural award was given to Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, about which the prize jury said:

Exit West, Mohsin Hamid’s magical realist novel about refugees, is a work of deep humanity. His sentences are exquisite, capable of jaw-dropping surprise, elegant emotional exploration, and bone-chilling horror within a few clauses. And by bringing the contemporary refugee crisis into countries that have mostly ignored the suffering beyond their borders, he forces us to ask ourselves how we are reacting to the crisis, and what potential we have to do better. In a world with 50 million displaced people, this is a novel that affects us all.”

The short list for the Aspen Words Literary Prize consisted of: What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah; What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons; Exit West by Mohsin Hamid; Mad Country by Samrat Upadhyay; and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

~ posted by Andrea G.

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