Books

Canadians Omar El Akkad, Myriam J. A. Chancy & Linda Rui Feng longlisted for $43K contemporary fiction prize

The Aspen Words Literary Prize honours an influential work of fiction that demonstrates an important contemporary issue and the power of literature on our culture.

The Aspen Words Literary Prize honours a work of fiction that demonstrates an important contemporary issue

Omar El Akkad, left, Myriam J. A. Chancy, centre, and Linda Rui Feng, right, have made the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist. (Kateshia Pendergrass, submitted by authors)

Canadian writers Omar El Akkad, Myriam J. A. Chancy and Linda Rui Feng have made the 2022 Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist.

The $35,000 U.S. ($43,900 Cdn) award annually honours an influential work of fiction that demonstrates an important contemporary issue and the transformative power of literature on our culture. 

The longlist features 16 authors from different parts of the world.

El Akkad is longlisted for What Strange Paradise.

What Strange Paradise tells the story of a global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. Nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor from a ship full of refugees coming to a small island nation. He ends up with a teenage girl named Vanna, who lives on the island. Even though they don't share a common language or culture, Vanna becomes determined to keep Amir safe.

What Strange Paradise recently won the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.  

"It's a re-purposed fable. It's the story of Peter Pan inverted and recast as the story of a contemporary child refugee," El Akkad said in an interview with CBC Books.

El Akkad is a Canadian journalist and author who currently lives in Portland. He is also the author of the novel American War, which was a finalist on Canada Reads 2018.

LISTEN | Omar El Akkad on What Strange Paradise:

Omar El Akkad in conversation with Shelagh Rogers about his novel, on What Strange Paradise. 18:05

Chancy is nominated for the novel What Storm, What Thunder

When Chancy spoke to survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 250,000 people and left countless others homeless, she was overwhelmed by their stories. The painful accounts led to What Storm, What Thunder, a novel which weaves together the experiences of 10 different characters to create a vivid portrait of the earthquake and its aftermath.

"There was this sense of always being impregnated with Haitian arts and culture... That sense of rootedness in Haitian culture never left me," Chancy said in an interview with Writers & Company

Born in Haiti, Chancy grew up between Port-au-Prince and Canada. She is the author of four novels and four books of literary criticism. Chancy ​​now lives and teaches in the U.S.

LISTEN | Myriam J. A. Chancy on What Storm, What Thunder:

Novelist Myriam Chancy talks to Eleanor Wachtel about her new book, What Storm, What Thunder. Multilayered and lyrical, it features a variety of inter-connected characters, each with a moving story. 52:32

The final Canadian title on the longlist is Feng's novel Swimming Back to Trout River.

Swimming Back to Trout River is about the intertwined lives of several characters during and after the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution. They journey from China to America, while grappling with deferred music ambitions, painful family secrets and unfulfilled promises. Swimming Back to Trout River was also longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

"I was always on the lookout for hearing about people's understanding and making sense of the Cultural Revolution," said Feng in an interview with CBC Books.

Feng is a writer, scholar and a professor of Chinese cultural history at the University of Toronto. 

The other longlisted books are:

  • Radiant Fugitive by Nawaaz Ahmed
  • The Arsonists' City by Hala Alyan
  • The Startup Wife by Tahmima Alam
  • A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies
  • Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
  • Abundan¢e by Jakob Guanzon
  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  • Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
  • Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen
  • Bewilderment by Richard Powers
  • The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade
  • Bewilderness by Karen Tucker
  • The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

The shortlist will be announced on Feb. 23, 2022 and the winner will be announced on April 21, 2022.  

Last year's winner was Louise Erdrich for The Night Watchman.

Founded in 1976, Aspen Words is part of the Aspen Institute based in Aspen, Colorado.

The mission of the program is to encourage writers, inspire readers and connect people through stories. The Aspen Words Literary Prize is one of the biggest literary awards in America.

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