On April 16, Aspen Words will confer the third annual Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 award recognizing a work of fiction that addresses a vital social issue. Sixteen nominees are still in the running, and the diverse list includes 12 novels and four short story collections covering a variety of critical issues and published by an array of presses. While the jury works on narrowing down this list to five finalists (to be announced February 19) and a winner, Aspen Words chatted with the nominees about their work, how they view their role as a writer in the cultural and political moment, and the best piece of writing advice they’ve received. You can find the series of conversations here.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut story collection, Sabrina & Corina was born of the author’s desire to provide literary representation of her community: Latinas of indigenous ancestry in the American West. The collection began as a love song to Denver, a multicultural space, a convergence zone where the various cultures that made Fajardo-Anstine came together in a unique blend. Her ancestors migrated north from southern Colorado in the 1920s and 1930s. For much of the author’s life, she felt unseen, discarded, or dismissed in dominant literature. From a long line of artists and storytellers, Fajardo-Anstine inherited an urge to explore the Southwestern storytelling tradition as it relates to place, violence against women, feminism, and family.
How do you view your role as a writer in this cultural and political moment, and why is the time right for your book?
As a writer, I am interested in truth-telling. I hope to illuminate meaning in the cracks of what is visible. Many people visit or move to Denver and they think, what a beautiful world-class city. But underneath that veneer, many of us are struggling and have been struggling since the West was won, or lost, depending on your viewpoint. A book like mine offers a narrative of the American West that is radically complex, and through that complexity, a greater understanding of truth is hopefully gained. My ancestors have been artists and storytellers since the beginning of time, and it is a great honor to have my voice heard on such a large scale today. We have been trying to get here for generations.
What other author deserves this award and why?
This is why I admire the judges so! What a difficult task they have ahead of them with such important works on the longlist. Since I can’t decide just one, my favorites include Dominicana by Angie Cruz, The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero, Lot by Bryan Washington, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott, and We Cast A Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.
What is the core tenet of your book’s philosophy?
As Faulkner would say, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice.”
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received on writing fiction?
Start over and write another draft! Do not be afraid to cut, and cut some more.