Author Jamil Jan Kochai wins 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize
Author Jamil Jan Kochai has won the 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize for his acclaimed short story collection, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories.”
Kochai will receive a $35,000 award — one of the largest literary prizes in the United States — for his collection of 12 distinctive short stories about family, displacement and the search for a lost home in the wake of violence in Afghanistan.
Aspen Words, a local literary hub with programs tied to the Aspen Institute, announced the winner at a ceremony in New York City on Wednesday.
“This is such an incredible honor,” Kochai said during the live-streamed ceremony.
The award is open to authors of any nationality; Kochai was one of five finalists in contention for the prize, culled from a longlist of 14 semifinalists. A three-person selection committee chose the longlist, and a five-person jury of scholars, authors and others with literary expertise selected the shortlist and the winner.
The Aspen Words Literary Prize recognizes “a work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture,” according to a press release that announced the shortlist earlier this year.
In an interview with Aspen Public Radio earlier this month, Kochai said that the social impact of his work is partly “incidental” to the stories he writes. The work is inspired by his family’s lived experiences of violence in Afghanistan; Kochai conducted research and interviews about that trauma to inform his fiction writing, he said.
The author acknowledged that inspiration in a brief speech at Wednesday’s ceremony, too, referring to “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories” as “a culmination of multiple generations of storytellers.”
“All of my stories, the dead marks I leave on the page, are written in the shadow of the great storytellers who spoke the word before me,” Kochai added.
You can listen to interviews with all five of the Aspen Words Literary Prize finalists here.