Podcast Episode 74: Behind-the-Scenes of Judging the Aspen Words Literary Prize with Sara Hildreth (@fictionmatters)

judging the aspen words literary prize


In Episode 74, Sara Hildreth from @fictionmatters and the Novel Pairings Podcast shares her experience judging the Aspen Words literary prize.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).


  • Whether publishers stuck to the stated mission of the prize when they submitted books.
  • The role of the Reading Committee and how it works with the judges.
  • How Sara was approached to do this and if she got paid.
  • The types of people that are able to take on a role like this given the time commitment and small payment (and some ways the process could be streamlined to open up a role like this to a larger subset of people).
  • Sara’s personal process for reading, rating, and ranking the 185 submissions.
  • Whether Sara was allowed to DNF and what guidance the Prize gave her about DNF’ing.
  • How Sara balanced her personal enjoyment of a submission with the book’s literary merit.
  • How Sara handled books where her personal views on the issue being highlighted differed dramatically from the viewpoint put forth in the book.
  • The book Sara would choose as the winner if she was the sole judge.
  • The impact judging the prize had on Sara’s reading life (including what she read when she wasn’t reading Prize submissions, things she learned through this process that she’ll integrate into her reading life moving forward, and it she’d ever do something like this again).

Sara’s Book Recommendations [34:52]

Two OLD Books She Loves

Two NEW Books She Loves

One Book She DIDN’T LOVE

One NEW RELEASE She’s Excited About

Last 5 Star Book Sara Read [50:02]

Other Books Mentioned

Other Links

About Sara

Sara Hildreth from Fiction MattersWebsite | Instagram | Podcast

Sara Hildreth is a reader, teacher, and lifelong learner. 

Prior to this year, Sara taught high school English at an all-girls school in Colorado. 

While working on her MA in Literature at Georgetown University, Sara began sharing her reading life publicly on Instagram as a way to connect with bibliophiles outside of academia. Through her participation in this community, Sara fell in love with recommending books to a larger audience all while challenging her thinking and expanding her own reading taste.

She lives in Denver, CO with her husband and their puppy, Mr. Bingley.

Next Episode

There will not be a new episode next week since the podcast is on a bi-weekly schedule.

The following week, there will be a full length episode featuring Ashley Audrain, the author of January GMA Book Club pick The Push (airing February 3).

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judging the aspen words literary prize


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