Aspen Words Literary Prize Awarded to Tayari Jones

April 12, 2019 | 1 book mentioned 2 min read

The Aspen Words Literary Prize was awarded yesterday to Tayari Jones for An American Marriage, at a ceremony in New York City.

The prize, which operates out of the Aspen Institute, awards $35,000 annually to “an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.” It was awarded for the first time last year; books had to be published between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018 to be eligible for this prize.

Jones was selected unanimously by the judges. “It’s a book for the long haul,” said judge and writer Samrat Upadhyay.

See also: Jones’s Year in Reading from 2017. And Publishers Weekly had this to say about the novel:

Jones lays bare the devastating effects of wrongful imprisonment in this piercing tale of an unspooling marriage. Roy, an ambitious corporate executive, and Celestial, a talented artist and the daughter of a self-made millionaire, struggle to maintain their fledgling union when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison on a rape charge he is adamant is false. Before Roy’s arrest, the narrative toggles between his and Celestial’s perspectives; it takes an epistolary form during his imprisonment that affectingly depicts their heartbreaking descent into anger, confusion, and loneliness. When Roy is proven innocent and released seven years early, another narrator is introduced: Andre, Celestial’s lifelong best friend who has become very close to her while Roy has been away. Jones maintains a brisk pace that injects real suspense into the principal characters’ choices around fidelity, which are all fraught with guilt and suspicion, admirably refraining from tipping her hand toward one character’s perspective. The dialogue—especially the letters between Roy and Celestial—are sometimes too heavily weighted by exposition, and the language slides toward melodrama. But the central conflict is masterfully executed: Jones uses her love triangle to explore simmering class tensions and reverberating racial injustice in the contemporary South, while also delivering a satisfying romantic drama.

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