Last Monday evening, as storm clouds gathered over East Hampton and the rain began, those in this community interested in the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction finally learned who won the $5,000 first prize. They assembled in the 350-seat John Drew Theater in East Hampton, and for a time they listened to Caroline Doctorow sing to them from the stage as those running the Literary Prize award ceremony prepared the evening. It would all unfold beginning at 8 p.m.
It was surprising how much had gone into keeping the names of these winners secret. The nearly 400 entries had all been received, a great flurry of more than a hundred of them just before the July 31 deadline, and had gone out to the judges and been scored. I then tallied the results. And so I knew by August 10. But I wasn’t telling anybody. Except for Ellen Dioguardi, Marketing Director at Dan’s Papers, who oversaw the creation of the winning trophy and the framed runners-up certificates.
While Caroline played, people in the audience could have read the full name of the winner on the brass plaque attached to the trophy on a table onstage. But it was covered with masking tape. Backstage, the framed runner-up awards with the winners’ names were upside down on a table. Even the presenters would not know who won until they opened the sealed envelopes.
Now it was time. As Caroline finished her last song, I came onstage and explained how this contest had come about. We had been honoring artists in this community with artwork on the covers of Dan’s Papers for 25 years. Now we were honoring the writers. The entries had to be between 600 and 1,500 words, had to reference eastern Long Island in meaningful ways, and had to be nonfiction: biographies, memories, memoirs, reporting, histories.
I next introduced National Book Award author E. L. Doctorow, who came to the podium and presented a learned speech about both fiction and nonfiction, talking about the passion involved in writing and the need to do it if you feel that passion. He cited examples of different authors in history who had produced works in either one or the other mode or both.
When Mr. Doctorow finished, I introduced Joan Baum, one of this community’s best-known book reviewers, and she opened the envelope and announced that the winner for first runner-up was Eve Eliot for her story “Why the East End Is an Excellent Place to Die.” Eve came up to the stage and accepted the framed certificate, a cash award of $500 and a gift Nook from Barnes & Noble, the company that provided major funding for the prize, and then spoke to the crowd.
Second runner-up, presented by former ad agency President and Sag Harbor Express columnist James Marquardt, went to Joe Carson for “The Naked Kingdom.”
And the grand prize, $5,000 and the trophy, went to Springs resident Susan Duff for “Moving Through Water.”
Emmy award winning broadcaster Pia Lindstrom then came out and, sitting on a stool stage left, slowly and movingly read “Moving Through Water” aloud to the audience.
And so it ended, with Caroline Doctorow onstage again to sing the audience, the winners and the participants out to the lobby for wine and cheese, and from there out into the rain.
Besides Barnes & Noble, this event was sponsored by Hampton Jitney, Bridgehampton National Bank, Southampton Inn, Ben Krupinski Builders, cable network Destination America, Mini of Southampton, Audi Southampton, BMW of Southampton and Porsche of Southampton.