An eager crowd of about 30 people sat by the fire in the living room of the Southampton Inn last Saturday evening in anticipation of enjoying the first of this year’s off-season literary salons to celebrate the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction. There would be four essays read. And the readers of the essays selected for the salon were the essayists themselves.
The program was introduced by this author, who said he was excited to be part of this once-a-month event and that it was a tribute to the rising interest in the spoken word in recent times on radio broadcasts such as The Moth, Selected Shorts and Radio Lab on NPR and at salons such as this. He said that the four readers of the night’s performance had been selected from the more than 1,000 entries into the Literary Prize during the last three years and he anticipated hearing them read as much as anyone else.
The first essay was by Tom Gabrielsen of Jamesport, and was titled “The Lottery and the Phantom Albino Buck.” It was about the author’s experience with his son attending the lottery in Riverhead years ago when only certain hunters would be selected to hunt deer in this community. It followed the pair as they went off hunting and came upon a doe and her small albino fawn in the woods. The two decided not to shoot. Bad luck supposedly follows you the rest of your life if you kill an albino deer. But it also resulted in the Gabrielsens failing to fell any deer at all on that occasion. The piece drew the listeners into the scene in the dark, cold winter woods of the North Fork. It involved bonding, between himself and his son, and between the doe and her fawn. The author ended by describing how this albino deer would grow up to be a magnificent and splendid white buck.
The second reader was Nicole Uterano-Ferrar of Huntington Station, whose essay “The Thread” described the small vacation cabin her family owned in New Suffolk on the North Fork. She began by relating the first time her parents took her and several of her girlfriends from school out there during the winter, to clean, sand and paint the interior of this place. She described the adventures she and her friends had there at the beach nearby, and how years later she was proposed to in that house by a young man, now her husband, who asked her father’s permission there, how she was married there, how her sister was married there, and how their children have come to love this family home and how she hopes her children’s children would do the same. This was the thread, a tribute to a home away from home.
The third essay was “East End Shangrila” by Martin Levinson of Southampton, who described how he and his wife, born and bred New Yorkers, came to buy a small two-bedroom two-bath “factory assembled” home, as he called it, that backed up onto a woods in Southampton. At first he was not so sure they should go ahead and buy it. “You know, something goes wrong, you can’t just call the super,” he had told his wife. He soon had the audience laughing as he deadpanned disastrous encounters with zoning ordinances, roofers, plumbers and particularly a carpenter who put a new wall up on top of a rotted foundation, then wanted a second hunk of money to make it right. Nevertheless, the essay ended with the author conceding he had come to love the place and the peace and quiet it offered, especially for his wife, who now had a full artist studio where the garage had been.
The final essay was “Acorn Diary” by Judith Mogul of Cutchogue, who began by praising the magnificent woods around the vacation home she and her husband had bought years ago, particularly this grand old oak tree that shaded the rear deck of the house. The following fall however, this tree unceremoniously and unexpectedly rained down showers of acorns on the deck, which ultimately caused her husband to begin a campaign to have the tree cut down because of this mess which soon became a battle of wills with his wife, trying to get her to agree, that occupied practically the whole rest of the essay. That she eventually agreed to this and then went out shopping on the day it would be cut down so she did not have to watch it happen, provided a sad coda to this beautiful essay.
“I wished you would have won that battle,” I said after she finished. The audience nodded their agreement.
At the end of the salon, I invited the four readers to come take a bow in front of the fireplace, which they did to wonderful applause.
Many thanks to the editorial staff members of Dan’s Papers who helped select these four essays, to Judy Malone and Ellen Dioguardi and the Dan’s Papers marketing staff for putting this together, and particularly to Dede Gelheif of the Southampton Inn for providing the stage for this event, and the wine and cheese that accompanied it. The Dan’s Papers Literary Salon is held at the Southampton Inn to highlight the contest and to support the literary arts. Future salons will be held each month through April—the next is Saturday, December 12—and the public is invited, free of charge.
The fourth year of the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize will open for entries in April 2015 and will conclude with an awards ceremony at the end of the summer season. In the first three years, keynote speakers at the awards ceremony have been Robert Caro, E.L. Doctorow and Walter Isaacson. The winning entries have been read to the audience by Pia Lindstrom and Mercedes Ruehl.
Major funding for the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction comes from Barnes & Noble.