Dawnie Walton was declared the winner of the Aspen Words Literary Prize 2022 on Thursday, April 21, 2022.
The Aspen Words Literary Prize is an annual award for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture. Eligible works include novels or short story collections that address questions of violence, inequality, gender, the environment, immigration, religion, race, or other social issues. Past winners include Mohsin Hamid (2018), Tayari Jones (2019), Christy Lefteri (2020), and Louise Erdrich (2021). Laila Lalami and Nicole Dennis-Benn have made the shortlist.
The five-member jury for 2021, which changes annually, featured Angie Cruz, Danielle Evans, Ann Friedman, Kiese Laymon, and Pádraig Ó Tuama. This panel revealed the longlist on November 10 before making the shortlist known on February 25. The winner was announced as The Final Revival Of Opal & Nev. Dawnie Walton, (37 Ink, Simon and Schuster.)
The jury called the novel “as innovative in form as it is soulful in delivery.” In it, Walton “blurs the lines between revelation and realization in a book that witnesses, and really undulates under, the weight of professional and personal secrets, while picking away at the very real desire for American progress with few substantial models for reciprocal American reckoning.”
Walton’s book follows the meteoric rise of a fictional interracial rock duo in the 1970s, their sensational breakup, and the dark secrets unearthed when they try to reunite decades later for one last tour. Her work explores identity, place, and the influence of pop culture.
“I would not be standing here without the community of writers and readers — especially Black writers and readers — who said, ‘Damn a pandemic’ and used every virtual and digital means possible to support this story,” Walton said of releasing the book into the pandemic’s challenging landscape for authors. “I’m looking forward to doing my part to keep our community going.”
She goes home with the $35,000 cash prize.