Reading Dan’s Papers Literary Prize Essays at Southampton Inn

The first Dan's Literary Prize winner, James K. Phillips
The first Dan's Literary Prize winner, James K. Phillips, Photo: Richard Lewin

The first of what will be six monthly readings of select essays entered in the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize competition was held last Saturday evening in the living room of the Southampton Inn.

The setting could not have been more appropriate for literary readings. There was a roaring fire. Canapés were served and there was a bar off to one side. About 30 guests sat on couches and easy chairs in anticipation of hearing the essays read aloud by their authors from a lectern adjacent to the grand piano in the room. Classical music attended the readings prior to arrival of guests at 5 p.m. and as they left at 7 p.m. As this writer, who emceed the event, commented to those attending, this was the sort of gathering that might have been held in the 18th or 19th century to enjoy the work of an accomplished artist, followed by food and wine and conversation.

The literary competition has been held now for two summers, in 2012 and 2013, and will again begin in the spring of 2014. Writers contribute short works of nonfiction that reference the eastern end of Long Island in a meaningful way. About 400 people entered the event in the first year and a similar number entered in 2013.

This first reading was certainly the keystone event of all the upcoming readings. It featured the winner of the 2012 competition, James K. Phillips, as well as the 2013 winner, Susan Duff, reading their works.

Phillips, a Shinnecock Indian, read an expanded version of his winning essay, “Magic Shirts,” that had the audience spellbound. He is a competitive dancer at Indian powwows around the country, and in the springtime, before the series of these large gatherings begin, the women of the Shinnecock tribe, create for him his native regalia from leather, cloth, ribbons and beads that they weave and sew by hand. Phillips, grateful for what they do, considers their work magical, and in appreciation wrote his essay describing exactly how the work was done. His oldest sister accompanied him to the reading, and at the cocktail party afterwards, my wife and I learned that her son, now in his 20s, is a bull rider at rodeos and keeps horses and steers out at the reservation here in Southampton to practice his craft.

Duff, who wrote the winning essay in 2013, “Moving Through Water,” is a resident of Springs and wrote about her efforts to help her husband through a medical condition that threatened to result in his being unable to walk. She attributes his remarkable recovery to the swimming they came to enjoy during his rehabilitation, swimming that takes place on the narrow peninsula of Louse Point in Springs, where it’s possible to swim in two bodies of water each day—Gardiner’s Bay and Accabonac Harbor—just a few dozen yards from each other. Her husband, a handsome man with a distinguished black beard, accompanied her to the reading and sat there proudly near the lectern, smiling and enjoying as she read, attended by a cane nearby, which he seems to use only part of the time. After she read her essay, he stood to a round of applause.

The Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction awards a $5,000 first prize to the winner each year, as selected by a panel of judges. Entries will be welcome for the 2014 prize at beginning March 1. Second and third place winners receive $500 each. Winners are announced at an event in late August at the John Drew Theater in East Hampton. Last year’s keynote speaker was E.L. Doctorow; the keynote speaker in 2012 was Bob Caro.

Major funding for the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction in 2013 was provided by Barnes & Noble. Major sponsors of the event were Hampton Jitney, the Destination America cable channel, Bridgehampton National Bank (BNB), the Southampton Inn, Ben Krupinski Builders and Southampton BMW, Audi, Mini and Porsche.

The next event in the living room of the Southampton Inn is scheduled for January 18 at the same time, 5 to 7 p.m. Guests are welcome to come, free of charge.

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