Write Away! How to Win the Dan’s Literary Prize for Nonfiction

2013 Literary Prize winners, Eve Eliot, Joe Carson and winner Susan Duff
2013 Literary Prize winners, Eve Eliot, Joe Carson and winner Susan Duff, Photo: Nicholas Chowske

I have been asked, as the referee in the Dan’s Papers 2015 Literary Prize for Nonfiction, to select topics you might write about to win the competition. The entries must reference the East End in a meaningful way, be between 600 and 1,500 words, and be nonfiction. Nonfiction includes memoirs, biographies, history, an account of a day, humor, tell-all, scientific study, interview or news item. In other words, feel free to enter any essay you like, so long as none of it is made up.

There are two competitions running concurrently, and you can enter either or both until August 15. They are the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction, which is open to everyone. And the Dan’s Papers $4,000 Literary Prize for Emerging Young Writers, which is open to anyone age 25 and under. Yes, winners receive a check. And a trophy.

So how do I help you? I will give you ideas of what to write about here, but I worry if I tell you nonfiction ideas, you will say oh, damn, now I can’t write about that. For example, I might say, tell us a story your grandfather told you about rum-running in Montauk. And you will say, damn, now I can’t write about rum-running.

And so I’ve decided that the best way to do this is to give you ideas in these various categories, but have them be fiction, things that I have made up, rather than nonfiction. But you will get the idea. So here goes.

Write about the shipwreck we had here in 1968 when the America’s Cup sailboat races were held in Newport, and one of the entrants, from France, got its sails all tangled up and it sailed out of control for 100 miles until it came up on the rocks at Shinnecock.

Write about the time that Abbott and Costello played at the Canoe Place Inn—your great-grandfather remembers this joke they told.

“Eddie’s father called up to him. ‘Eddie, if you don’t stop playing that trumpet, I think I’ll go crazy!’ Eddie replied, ‘I think you are already. I stopped playing half an hour ago.’”

I woke up. The sun was shining. I looked out. I went outside. I was at the beach all day. It was nice. Then I came home and had dinner and went to bed.

Write about this new crossbreed creature that comes up on the beach in the summertime that is one-half jellyfish and one-half piping plover. It spends half its day flying around, and the other half stuck to wherever it landed.

Describe how your mother and father, both young scientists, met and fell in love while trying to get a jellyfish to mate with a piping plover in Amagansett.

Describe how you watched Madonna fall off a horse at her farm in Bridgehampton.

*     *       *

A lot of people are rooting for you to enter and win. They include Alec Baldwin, who is providing special support for the new Emerging Young Writers Award. At the award ceremony at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall on September 3 will be Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Jules Feiffer, who will give the inaugural address to introduce that award. Also speaking will be National Book Award Winner Tom Wolfe, who will give the keynote address for that event. (Last year it was Walter Isaacson, the year before E.L. Doctorow and the year before that Robert Caro.) Other support for your efforts is offered by Len Riggio of Barnes & Noble and Emmy winner Pia Lindstrom. Also on your side are the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), the Perlman Music Program, the Southampton Arts Center, Bobby Van’s restaurant, Bridgehampton National Bank, BK Builders and the Southampton Inn, all of whom are contributing to the literary prize.

Get out there and win.

To submit and learn more, visit literaryprize.danspapers.com.

More from Our Sister Sites