Win $5K? Who Will Be Named Best Writer of Short Nonfiction in 2014?

Scenes from the Dan's Papers Literary Prize
Scenes from the Dan's Papers Literary Prize

The Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction competition is now underway. And you are welcome to compete for one of three prizes—a $5,000 first prize, and two runner-up prizes of $500 each. Submit your entries online at Come to the awards ceremony on August 16 at the John Drew Theater to see if you won. At that time, the winners will be named and their selections read.

This is the third year of the Prize, and I am proud to say that nonfiction is alive and well on the eastern end of Long Island. One or another of the many excellent entries are featured in this newspaper almost every week, while others are read aloud at our monthly salons, held on Saturday afternoons at the Southampton Inn all winter (the final salon of this season is April 26).

All entries must reference the East End of Long Island in some meaningful way. The piece has to be short—between 600 and 1500 words—and it can be anything but fiction or poetry, so we have been getting entries that are about a historical incident, a biography, a memoir, a walk through the woods, a bit of humor, an opinion.

A panel of judges reads all the entries. I am not a judge, but I am the referee for this event and I have had my favorites, mostly those that are filled with humor. I loved one entry about four friends who unintentionally capsize a sailboat on Mecox Bay and then are able to wade ashore onto the private property of some celebrity whose security team detains them there and threaten to have them arrested for trespassing.

I recall another I loved about a Halloween evening at the Montauk Manor, where the staff dresses up in costume to welcome guests and then have to deal with a distressed woman in one of the rooms who wants help in corralling her boyfriend, who is drunk and threatening her. The front desk sends a man up there who is dressed as a Franciscan monk and ends up in a wrestling match with the inebriated man. I’ve read pieces about shipwrecks, about weddings, about death, about hikes along a deserted beach. In the contest’s first year, the winning entry was written by a Shinnecock Indian whose entire essay was about the magical Pow Wow dancing garments the women of the tribe sewed for him.

I love reading these pieces and hearing them read aloud. We’ve had standing-room crowds during the awards at the John Drew Theatre to hear Pia Lindstrom read the winning entry, and this year I expect the same when Mercedes Ruehl does the honors.

This year at the awards ceremony, author Walter Isaacson, who’s written memoirs of Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, will give the keynote speech. Past speakers have been E.L. Doctorow and Robert Caro.

The First Prize award will be presented by Barnes & Noble, which provides major funding for the prize competition. As part of this year’s event, Dan’s Papers will also be awarding a scholarship to a Stony Brook University student.

Writers have flocked to the East End for centuries to write award-winning works. John Steinbeck lived and wrote here. So did Arthur Miller, James Jones, Truman Capote, Betty Friedan, James Fenimore Cooper and a host of other authors of both fiction and nonfiction. We are looking to discover the next winner of the Pulitzer Prize, or the next winner of the George Polk Award in Journalism.

For the past 35 years, Dan’s Papers has honored the artists of the Hamptons with weekly covers of their work. Now, by offering up this competition, we do the same for the writers. Why not you?

Think of what you want to write about. Go to, read the rules and enter your essay there (there’s a modest fee to enter). The deadline is midnight of July 21.

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