What It Takes to Win the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize and $5,000

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

You have the desire to win $5,000. You have the perfect idea for an essay about the East End, something you’re convinced will win the 2014 Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction competition. But once you get those fingers poised above the keyboard, you just don’t know where to begin.

Are we right?

Allow us to offer some inspiration—and valuable inspiration it is, taken from the six writers who have taken home honors, not to mention money (the grand prize award and $5,000 are given to the top essay, and two $500 runners-up prizes are also handed out) for their entries in the first two years of the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize.


In 2013, James K. Phillips was awared the inaugural grand prize for “Magic Shirts,” and the runners-up were “Waiting for the Ferry” by Jean Ely and “Littoral Drifter” by Susan A. Cohen. Last year, first-place honors went to Susan Duff for her piece “Moving Through Water,” and the two runners-up prizes were awarded to Eve Eliot for “Why the East End Is a Great Place to Die” and Joe Carson for “The Naked Kingdom.” While each one of these past winners was inspired to write about a unique experience, what they had in common was a passionate, personal viewpoint of the East End.

To read the complete essays from each past winner, click the links provided below. To see how they began, read on…

From “Moving Through Water” 
by Susan Duff
On New Year’s Eve, Paul and I had dinner with friends at our house in Springs. We danced to Motown until well after midnight. The next morning, we drove to the ocean for the annual polar plunge.

A dismal sky hung like a shadow over Atlantic Beach, but the gathered crowd was spirited. A man wore a toilet plunger on his head, solidarity with those going in. Women in parkas served hot chowder from wind-blown pavilions.

Paul joined the group of plungers steeling themselves for the icy dip. I stood to the side, clinging to my chowder cup with mittened hands.

The starting gun sounded and Paul raced into the choppy breakers with the others. I lost sight of him when the whooping mass splashed back to shore.

Wandering into the wet, shivering mob, I found him quickly. He’s taller than most men and has a distinctive gait. “An old anti-war wound,” he’d joke when someone asked about his arthritic limp.

Paul grinned with chattering teeth as I bundled him into a towel and hugged him close. “It’s going to be a great year,” he said.

Four days later, Paul had surgery on his failing hips. His surgeon had promised he would walk without pain, his limp gone, within weeks—by early spring, he’d be riding a bike to the beach…

From “Why the East End Is a Great Place to Die”
by Eve Eliot
If my adorable husband, who died at our home on Fireplace Road on May 24th, had read the title of this piece, he would have said with his usual wit, that he wanted national acclaim for his handsomeness. But this entry, I would have explained, laughing, needed to be about the East End.

I learned from this handsomest of men that the East End is not only a grand place to live, it is also an excellent place to die. I also learned that we can choose not to suffer while dying. My husband never chose to suffer, about anything. He liked to be comfy. With the help of East End Hospice, which, according to experts in such matters, is exceptional, Jim was able to come in for a soft landing. Finally, I learned that the East End is also an excellent place to grieve. The especially cozy sense of community, which offers the opportunity for hugs from friends at the supermarket, the dry cleaners, the yoga studios, allows for a sense of belonging which is so essential to warming the chill of grief.

In addition to the devoted staff at East End Hospice, I knew that I, as a committed hypochondriac who had been “terminal” all my life, would be an excellent source of support for my afflicted husband. For me, every shower was always going to be my last, every cup of delicious morning coffee my final brew…

From “The Naked Kingdom”
by Joe Carson
I remember being 10 and climbing through the narrow passages between the limbs of a tall cedar in our backyard toward a dark mass of honeybees that had split and swarmed from a hive in my parents’ apiary in Hampton Bays. A colony dividing is a spectacle. The bees leaving the hive in such numbers sound like a jet being scrambled. The noise of their wings deafens a bee yard and their flight darkens the sky. A novice beekeeper only needs to experience this once to understand exactly what it signals. The bees swarming provide a brief opportunity for a beekeeper to double the size of their apiary. Away from their hive they are at their most vulnerable. All a beekeeper has to do is capture their naked kingdom. The queen knows her vulnerability and has surrounded herself with thousands of armed guards…

From “Waiting for the Ferry”
by Jean Ely
Forty years ago, my mother and I sat on the beach at Orient Point and waited for the ferry.   Orient Point had an end-of-the-world feel to it.  Never mind that we were merely crossing Long Island Sound to New London, on a boat equipped with a snack bar and other modern entertainments.  There was still that aura of an outpost—a tiny ticket office perched on the sands, a last glimpse of the Island before we traveled the great water.

We had stayed with my mother’s oldest friend, her college roommate, at her house on Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton, a house populated with dogs and cats, and also a bicycle that would take me to the beach every day.  But now it was time to return home to Massachusetts, and my father was waiting for us in New London to drive us there…

From “Littoral Drifter”
by Susan A. Cohen
I am fifteen years old and brushing my teeth in the ladies’ bathroom at Jones Beach State Park. It is the morning after my first day as a runaway.  The day before, I filled my beach bag with the necessary items, counted out my cash earned from six months of babysitting, and with ease caught one bus, then another headed for the beach. In case you don’t already know, June is the perfect month for a teenager to run away. With school just out of session, the world of adults sees only a sudden confusion of children everywhere, barely noticing one unattended teenager. On Long Island, the warm summer weather, easy bus transportation, and an abundance of inexpensive food make walking away from home only an impulse away. One lone teenager sleeping on a towel at the beach is invisible…

From “Magic Shirts”
by James K. Phillips
Pow-wow season has arrived and as usual everything is being done now that should have been done during the winter and spring. Of course, during the winter no one does much except complain about the weather and put off doing that breechcloth, moccasin repair, beadwork, dress or headdress until next week, right after that favorite show finishes for the season or the time and energy arrive or whatever excuse works, until it doesn’t anymore and suddenly it’s here…summer—and there’s a gathering every weekend.
My excuse was that I still had plenty of time to do the necessary things, until time cleared out faster than Lolo Jones clears hurdles and left me scrambling with all the other procrastinators to get everything that was supposed to be done yesterday, done NOW…

Visit LiteraryPrize.DansPapers.com to enter the 2014 Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction. The contest is open through July 21, 2014. Winners will be announced at the gala awards ceremony at Guild Hall on August 16, where the grand prize entry will be read by Academy Award winner Mercedes Ruehl.

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