Less than two months after Tayari Jones won the Aspen Words Literary Prize, the American author has claimed a new laurel: the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The judges selected her novel An American Marriage at a ceremony Tuesday night in London, singling it out for praise and a purse of nearly $40,000.
“This is an exquisitely intimate portrait of a marriage shattered by racial injustice. It is a story of love, loss and loyalty, the resilience of the human spirit painted on a big political canvas — that shines a light on today’s America,” Kate Williams, historian and chair of this year’s judging panel, said in a statement released with the announcement.
“We all loved this brilliant book.”
Jones’ novel, which tells the story of a black man wrongly convicted of rape and the disastrous toll the conviction takes on his relationship, beat out five other finalists on the prize’s shortlist — two of whom, Anna Burns and Pat Barker, are previous winners of what was formerly known as the Man Booker Prize.
“I wasn’t expecting to win. The shortlist was so strong and I was honored to be among them, but I had no idea whether I would win,” Jones said at the ceremony. “I didn’t write a speech!”
Still, the novel has been no stranger to breathless praise.
Before An American Marriage won the Aspen prize in April, earning the author $35,000, its confrontation with difficult social issues also won praise from former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who added it to her popular book club.
If you’re not familiar with the Women’s Prize for Fiction, perhaps you know the prestigious award under another name. It had been known as the Baileys Prize — for its main sponsor at that time — and before that, it went by another moniker – perhaps its best-known: the Orange Prize.