Dan’s Papers is thrilled to announce the keynote speaker for our 6th Annual Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction Gala Awards, which will be held on Thursday, August 31 at Guild Hall in East Hampton. She’s a science writer who lives in Springs. She attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. And she has an asteroid named after her!
She’s Dava Sobel: The author of several award-winning, best-selling nonfiction books, including, most recently, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. One of the heroines of that true story, Annie Jump Cannon, visited Southold in May 1923 to attend the opening dedication ceremony for the Custer Institute. Seems like no matter where you look, there’s always an East End connection to be found.
The first thing we needed to know from Sobel was if the August 21 solar eclipse, which will make its way across the continental U.S., will be visible here on the East End. Sadly, it appears it won’t. “Here on the East End,” Sobel told us, “the sun will be partially obscured by the Moon—between 65 and 70%—but no one is likely to notice.” She explained: “The difference between totality and everything else, to borrow Mark Twain’s phrase, is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Sobel’s first job after graduating college was as a technical writer for IBM. She admits that she didn’t last long in the corporate world. “I found a much better fit as a features writer for a local newspaper in upstate New York in 1969, the year of the first Earth Day.” From there, Sobel took a science writer position in the Cornell University News Bureau. “That job prepared me for everything that has followed, from reporting for The New York Times to writing books about astronomy.”
Now about this prize. All entries must be original works of nonfiction between 600 and 1,500 words, and must reference the East End in a meaningful way. The entry fee is $25 per entry, and you may enter more than once piece. Writers age 25 and younger may enter the Emerging Writers Prize as well ($10 per entry).Entries can be memoir, biography, humor, history—anything that fits the category of nonfiction. Sorry poets, no poetry. The deadline for entries is August 14.
If you need a little advice on how to get started, Sobel does not disappoint.
“Always remember that readers have other books they could be reading [and] other activities they could be pursuing instead of reading your work. Make the story interesting from the start, and keep it as interesting as you can all the way through.” Sobel herself writes every day. “I go to bed early so I can wake up very early and catch myself at my best. By 10 a.m.,” she says, “I’m not nearly as productive as I was at 5 a.m.” As for instructional craft books Sobel recommends the classic The Elements of Style by Strunk and White as well as annual collections such as Best American Science Writing and Best American Science and Nature Writing, “which provide exemplary models,” she says.
Even if you’re not writing about science or nature, it’s not a bad idea to pick up a book of science and nature essays. Conversely, if you do write about science and nature, pick up a book of sports essays. If an essay covers a topic you have little or no interest in and it still demands your attention, try to pick it apart and figure out how it did so. A good writer is a good reader. Sobel herself, though predominantly a writer of astronomical science, enjoys the occasional novel and is currently reading a book about genomes and another about climate science.
No matter what you’re reading or writing, submit. Even if you’re not writing, join us at the awards ceremony and cocktail reception—it’s free and open to the public—and celebrate the creativity and inspiration of our East End community on August 31.
To enter this year’s competition and for more information on the Gala Awards Ceremony at Guild Hall and the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction, visit DansLitPrize.com.