The Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction began in 2012 as a way to showcase and celebrate the writers whose craft is so much a part of the fabric of our creative community, and to inspire outstanding new writing about the East End. As the July 21 deadline to enter this year’s competition draws near, we offer inspiration anew to all of you pondering just how to make your entry a winner.
A few weeks ago we offered some examples for how to kick off your essay in grand fashion. Now that you’ve gotten past the writer’s block, perhaps you’re looking for a little guidance on how to wrap things up. So we turn to the first two award-winning endings from the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize—each of which helped their authors take home the $5000 first prize—to inspire your own conclusions.
From 2012 Literary Prize Winner “Magic Shirts” by James K. Phillips
Once, during the Shinnecock pow-wow, I faced my Narragansett friend and rival in a ‘dance-off.’ As the first drum beats began, I swung my war axe and watched as the cluster of hawk feathers representing myself and my four sisters detached from the axe-head and arched into the sunlight. It hung in the air for what seemed like forever and I wanted to be as free as it was, if only for a few seconds…or a lifetime. It was an automatic disqualification, but we continued on and danced hard, the drum group giving us a smoking hot song. I presented my friend with those feathers, as a tribute to an honorable and spectacular contest. I feel like those feathers sometimes; wanting to break the ties of this world and fly away to a place where I can dance forever, my feet never touching the earth. But then, who knows? Perhaps one day I’ll have gathered enough articles of magic and do just that.
From 2013 Literary Prize Winner “Moving Through Water” by Susan Duff
Paul and I swim together twice a day now. In the morning, we drive down a hill bordered by thick woods. Early light sneaks though the branches and tie-dyes the dark winding road in shades of yellow.
We arrive at Albert’s Landing before the lifeguards and are happily alone on the pale beige beach. The sand stretches out into clear silky water, its surface sequined in the morning sun. To the east of the wide horseshoe bay, the white, lace-like sands of Napeague line a shore that meanders toward Montauk Point. To the west, where forested cliffs rise up from the beach, treetops shimmy in the morning breeze. We swim side by side along the cliffs, the sun at our backs.
Our evening swims are at Louse Point, Paul’s sacred spot. He says this is where he goes to worship.
He wields his cane in the sand with more confidence now, walking steadily along the path to the water. The rugosa blossoms are almost gone, and small orange globes now ripen along the beach’s border—rose hips, I think. It must be mid-summer.
Paul drops his cane on the sand and wades into the water ahead of me. He plunges and swims away fast; I tug on my fins and catch up. Swimming next to him, I navigate among the paddle boarders and kayakers.
Last summer, I liked to look up at the herring sky and white-bellied gulls on our Louse Point swims. Now, I watch Paul’s face as he comes up for air with every other stroke. He’s smiling again.
After our swim, I still take his hand as we wade onto the beach. He doesn’t need it now, but I like the habit. We stand for a while and watch the sun nestle into dark green trees on the far bank. It feels so much like last year, I sometimes forget what Paul can’t do. I start toward the path before I remember to go back and pick up his towel and cane for him. On a Friday in July, the surgeon’s nurse calls Paul from Manhattan with this month’s test results. I listen in, hopeful, on the other extension.
“Your progress is amazing,” Nadia says to Paul. “You could be good to go sooner than we predicted. Maybe by October. You must be doing something right.”
My eyes sting, but I start to grin.
“Swimming,” I say softly. “Just swimming. Twice a day. In two magical bays.”
To read all entries in the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction and to enter this year’s competition, visit LiteraryPrize.DansPapers.com. The deadline is July 21, 2014.