When her fourth novel, “An American Marriage,” won the Aspen Words Literary Prize last month, Tayari Jones pocketed $35,000, one of the largest cash prizes in the book-contest world. But she’s far from the only winner when it comes to her award-winning epic.
Thanks to a collaboration between Aspen Words and the Pitkin County Library, in an attempt to form a sort of valleywide book club, everyone who registers ahead of time at pitcolib.org can get one of 300 free copies of “An American Marriage” at the library tonight from 5:30-7 p.m. Even those who can’t make it to tonight’s giveaway can get a copy by signing up at the library. Books will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Our goal with the community read is to celebrate literature, unite readers around a work of fiction and ignite meaningful conversation on the vital social issues explored in this prize-winning novel,” said Elizabeth Nix, a program associate for Aspen Words. “We want readers and community members in the Roaring Fork Valley to engage with this book and take pride in the prize. It’s got Aspen in its name, so we want people who live here to be excited about it.”
Jones’ novel, a suspenseful love story about a young woman named Celestial whose husband is sent to prison for a crime she knows he didn’t commit, has been universally acclaimed as “powerful” and “important” and was an official selection for Oprah’s Book Club.
Its hard look at injustice, betrayal and heartbreak in the new South of the author’s native Atlanta drew Aspen Words’ eye and made it a natural fit for a prize given annually to — as the award’s website states — “an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.”
“It’s a wonderful book,” Nix said. “It’s essentially a love story, but it also makes a powerful statement about unjust incarceration and a corrupt criminal justice system that has had a negative impact on generations of African-Americans.”
Tonight’s hand-out get-together will include light refreshments and a chance to visit with library and Aspen Words staff. Then, once the free books have all been doled out and everyone has had a chance to read their copy, the library will host a community-wide discussion of “An American Marriage” on June 13 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
“Our hope is that, in addition to having rich discussions about the literary qualities and the story itself, this is an opportunity to spark some conversation about issues of race, class and identity,” Nix said.
The community read program will continue at Belly Up on June 18 from 6-7 p.m. when Jones comes to town to discuss “An American Marriage” and her other books with Adrienne Brodeur, Aspen Words executive director, as part of the annual Summer Words festival. A final event, which most likely will happen in July, aims to convene a panel of experts who will talk specifically about themes explored in the book.
The event is still in the organizational phase, but given that Aspen Words is a program of the Aspen Institute, expect the names making up the panel to be among the country’s foremost experts on the subjects.