On the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, several hundred people will assemble in the John Drew Theater in East Hampton to see who won the $10,000 in prizes in the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction. This crowd will be witnessing an award ceremony, the culmination of a seven-month-long literary prize contest designed to smoke out the very best essay writers who love the East End. One writer will win the grand prize of $5,000. Another writer, an “emerging young writer”—age 25 or younger, as the contest defines it—will win $3,000. And there will be four more people who will win $500 runner-up awards, and six more Judge’s Choice awards.
This is the sixth year Dan’s Papers has held this literary competition, and there is still time to enter. We’ve extended the deadline—it’s official—to August 14 at 11:59 p.m. Enter at DansLitPrize.com. The fee is only $25 per entry, and $10 per entry for the Emerging Young Writers competition.
We think that in a world of tweets, texts and emails, it is a good thing to take the efforts of all these people who have learned how to type into a slightly longer form. Here, it is about three pages of typing, double spaced, with artificial boundaries, which include: entries on any nonfiction topic, so long as it meaningfully mentions the eastern end of Long Island; more than 600 and less than 1,500 words.
You can write humor, memoir, opinion, history, a piece of journalism, an interview, a biography, an appreciation, a diatribe. It just has to be real facts or feelings. No poetry or fake news allowed, please. We love humor, of course.
Because the East End is also chock-full of successful authors, publishers, documentarians, historians and other nefarious individuals, we have, during these six years, attracted some major literary personalities to attend the awards ceremony and address this audience of adults and teenagers who have visions of thousands of dollars in prize money dancing in their heads.
Many have been Pulitzer Prize winners, Emmy winners, New York Times best-selling authors and National Book Award winners. Revered literary figures such as Bob Caro, Walter Isaacson, E.L. Doctorow, Tom Wolfe, Carl Bernstein and Jules Feiffer have addressed this eager crowd. Alec Baldwin has not, but he has sent us his praise of the event.
“I think if anyone can bring together some of the greatest writers around today on behalf of recognizing new, emerging work and thus ‘restock the pond’ to the benefit of all, that would be Dan. Dan and Dan’s Papers’ contributions to the art of writing and the craft of journalism are legendary. This competition is the latest effort in his stewardship of the written word,” Baldwin wrote.
This year, Dava Sobel, the New York Times best-selling author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, will deliver the keynote speech for the main Dan’s Papers Literary Prize. Her specialty is writing about science. Before her, lots of authors wrote about science. But who would have thought that a book about how modern navigation was discovered in the 19th century would be one that almost this entire country could not put down?
Others may have written about science before Dava Sobel, but none did it in a way that was this entertaining, challenging, intelligent and fascinating. She’s a Pulitzer Prize nominee for Galileo’s Daughter, and her most recent books are The Planets (2005), A More Perfect Heaven (2011) and The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars (2016). All the books she’s ever written remain in print, and she lives in Springs. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.
Gail Sheehy will deliver the keynote speech for the Dan’s Papers Emerging Young Writers awards. (Entrants must be under age 25). Ms. Sheehy, a prominent New York–based journalist who was part of the “New Journalism” movement in the 1960s, wrote Passages, a book about the life changes people go through, particularly at midlife, in 1976. It remained on The New York Times best-seller list for three years and arguably altered the course of the nation. As a result, it was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the 10 most influential books of our time.
She’s won many awards, including for interviews she wrote for magazines of such prominent political individuals as Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Hillary Clinton and both Presidents Bush. She’s won the New York Newswomen’s Club Front Page Award for Distinguished Journalism seven times, and the Washington Journalism Review award for Best Magazine Writer in America. She also wrote an article for New York magazine entitled “The Secrets of Grey Gardens” that led to a famous documentary, movie and Broadway show about the East Hampton socialites Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith “Little Edie” Beale, who lived in a decrepit and filthy house on West End Avenue in this town for many years.
After the keynote speeches, the winners of the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize are announced, and one at a time they get called up onstage to receive prizes, handshakes and the appropriate trophy, plaque or framed certificates. They are asked to speak to the crowd briefly. Some have thanked the judges, others have thanked their parents or other inspiring figures. In my opinion, it puts the Emmys, Oscars and Golden Globes to shame. Well, we try anyway.
The two winning essays are read aloud to the crowd as well. In the past, these essays have been read by Emmy Award-winner Pia Lindstrom, Academy Award-winner Mercedes Ruehl and TV legend Dick Cavett.
This year’s winning essays will be read aloud by Melissa Leo, who has appeared in more than 40 films, including the lead role in 2017’s The Most Hated Woman in America, where she plays the American Atheists founder, Madelyn Murray O’Hair. She’s in Last Summer in the Hamptons, and she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie The Fighter. A recipient of a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a SAG award, she is also the daughter of local bayman Arnold Leo and has deep roots in East Hampton.
Others contribute to the Dan’s Literary Festival events. At the start of the awards ceremony, the Perlman Music Program, based on Shelter Island, will offer a live classical music concert. The Hamptons International Film Festival has, in the past, chosen films that have been part of the festival. This year, the awards ceremony will be followed by a catered outdoor cocktail party in the Guild Hall Garden just outside, downstage left. There, the audience can mingle with presenters, winners, judges and speakers, and can also meet Gail Sheehy, Dava Sobel, Daniel Simone and several other authors (including me) who will be doing a special book signing!
In a summer of fundraisers, weddings, concerts, films and performances, it’s our belief that there is a place for the local and national (anybody can enter) essayists to be seen, heard and appreciated. I speak for the thousands of people who have entered this competition in its first five years. We hope you will join us that afternoon.
Join us. Write. Enter at DansLitPrize.com.
The Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction awards ceremony takes place as part of the Dan’s Literary Festival at 4 p.m. on Thursday, August 31, at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Admission to the ceremony and cocktail party are free to everyone who wishes to come.