In partnership with NPR, the Aspen Words Literary Prize awards $35,000 for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.
The award is one of the largest literary prizes of its kind in the U.S., and among the few that focuses exclusively on fiction with a social impact.
First awarded in 2018 by Aspen Words, a non-profit literary centre with the Aspen Institute, previous winners include Tayari Jones for An American Marriage and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. This year, Lefteri beat out an impressive shortlist which included Nicole Dennis-Benn, Valeria Luiselli, Bryan Washington and Brian Allen Carr.
Esmeralda Santiago who served on the 2020 prize jury said of Christy’s novel: ‘How do human beings process the horror around them, the senseless violence, the loss of what we hold dearest? Is it possible to ever feel safe, to love, to appreciate beauty? Christy Lefteri asks these questions of her characters, and ultimately, of us. We see wars on our screens and cross paths with the survivors in new lives in our neighborhoods, but we don’t see them. Lefteri brings us closer so we can, without fear.’
‘Literature has the power to help heal because of the light that it shines on issues. As we connect intimately with the characters and the stories we read, we become involved in their plight. It opens portals to other worlds and gives us hope. This is what makes literature so special. It shows we have the power to change things, we might not think we do, but we do.’ – Christy Lefteri
In her virtual acceptance speech, Christy spoke about the power of art and stories: ‘Literature has the power to help heal because of the light that it shines on issues. As we connect intimately with the characters and the stories we read, we become involved in their plight. It opens portals to other worlds and gives us hope. This is what makes literature so special. It shows we have the power to change things, we might not think we do, but we do. Change starts to happen with a shift in perception and perspective. In this way literature can be a powerful catalyst … I hope my book shines a light on refugees everywhere in the world.’
First published in May 2019 in hardback, The Beekeeper of Aleppo has achieved staggering success, spending seven weeks in the Sunday Times top 10, peaking at number four in hardback. As well as hitting the Sunday Times bestseller list again in paperback when it was released in February this year. It was also chosen by Richard and Judy for their Book Club with WH Smith this spring. Translation rights have been sold to 45 countries including the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and Greece.
Inspired by Christy’s personal experience of volunteering with refugees in Athens, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a moving love story about Nuri and Afra. A couple who are forced to leave their home in Aleppo and make a perilous journey to safety, but also must find their way back to each other in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.
Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a Unicef supported refugee centre in Athens, and draws on her own personal experiences getting to know those escaping harrowing war torn regions. Everything in the book; dark or beautiful has come directly from people she has met.