Five works of fiction entered with the chance to win the inaugural Aspen Words Literary Prize. As stories of immigrants and refugees, past hardships and hopes for the future, these novels and short story collections contain multitudes — but they also share something important, in the minds of Aspen judges: They shine a piercing light on some of the messiest, most difficult social issues of our day.
But just one work won the prize: Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid.
“Exit West is a novel about migration and how the world is changing — and could change — and how we are all migrants, and how we can find an optimistic future together,” Hamid said in his recorded acceptance speech at a ceremony Tuesday in New York City. “I’m really grateful to be honored by this prize in particular, which is a prize that looks to books to have an impact on the world.”
The first thing that stunned head judge Phil Klay about the novel, which is centered on the turbulent lives of refugees, “was just the exquisite sentences,” he said.
“He uses those sentences to build up this incredible portrait of two lovers in a war zone,” Klay added. “He forces us to ask how we would react, and what kind of potential there is for reactionary violence within our own societies. And he also hints at possibilities for doing better. And I think that that is something vital right now.”
Along with the prize, Hamid is bringing home a hefty $35,000.