The 2018 Dan’s Papers Literary Festival concluded another successful year of the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Thursday, honoring winners, handing out awards and prize money, and celebrating the written word on the East End.
Before a large crowd of writers and book fans in the John Drew Theater, Dan Rattiner awarded this year’s $7,500 grand prize to Cassandra Katherine Spiss for her story “The A Train to Montauk,” a reminiscence of how Spiss came to know and love the Hamptons and Montauk in particular.
“I definitely did not expect to win. I was just shocked and surprised, and just very happy and excited!” Spiss told Dan’s Papers after receiving her trophy and hefty check.
Following the announcement of Spiss’s win, author, comedian, actor and host of The View, Joy Behar, read “The A Train to Montauk” aloud. “That was pretty cool. I’m glad she read it, because I don’t know if I could’ve read it myself without vomiting,” Spiss said of Behar’s reading. “She did a great job, and it was very interesting to hear somebody read it and hear it from a different perspective.”
Earlier in the evening, Behar joined former U.S. Congressman and author of Big Guns Steve Israel, and Dan’s Papers COO and Editorial Director Eric Feil onstage for a lively “Fake News vs. Fiction” panel discussion.
The two Literary Prize runner-ups—Laura Tesch for “Hide and Seek—A Game for Grown-Ups” and Jim Fields for “Footprints on the Ceiling”—were introduced by two-time Lit Prize second-place winner and former grand prize winner Eve Eliot, who handed out their plaques and checks for $500 each.
Fields dedicated his win to his father in-law, the subject of his story. “It really made me think of him and the work that he put into building the house that the story was about. He built a house completely by himself, with his own hands. It took 20 years to do it. He was an amazing, amazing person, and it made for a good story,” Fields said later.
Tesch said, “This whole thing has just been so fun and such a shock. It was a great event! I loved hearing all the other pieces, and the panel discussion was great.”
Feil also handed out Judges Choice awards to Laura Zavato for “Growing Up on the Rock,” Richard Weissmann for “The End,” and Melissa Berman for “A Day and a Wave.”
Lufthansa Heist author Daniel Simone handed out the $1,000 Emerging Young Writers Prize for Nonfiction award, for writers under 25, to Samuel Lefkowitz-Quiana who wrote “On Godly Darkness,” a weighty story about a dark moment aboard a boat in Montauk. Behar also read this aloud to the audience.
“Oh god, my heart! I could feel my heart all the way in my temples!” Lefkowitz-Quiana said after leaving the stage, trophy and check in hand. “Basically, that’s all I was thinking about. They kept going through names, and when it came down to it, I was like, ‘holy s__t!’ Excuse my language. And then they called me up, and I had no idea what to say. I was terrified.”
Andrew Botsford, an actor, journalist and esteemed member of the Stony Brook Southampton Creative Writing program faculty, delivered the $250 Emerging Young Writers Runner-Up awards to Ermeen Choudhury for “Dear Ammi” and Timothy Facciola for “The Yellow Surfboard.”
Choudhury said she didn’t expect to win an award, noting, “I was really excited about it, and I was happy because my story is dedicated to my grandmother.”
For his part, Facciola said, “So the story is about the sale of the house we’ve had for 60 years. It was sort of this long journey and being called runner-up, it was just so wonderful to be able to turn this big, emotional event in June into something so constructive and wonderful. It really sort of capstones the moment.”
Feil gave Judges Choice awards for the Emerging Young Writers to Serena Camici for “Plum Island,” Rory King for “In/Out,” and Evi Saunders for “Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.”
In addition to the awards and the “Fake News vs. Fiction” panel, pianist Richard Devens played a stirring tribute to Chopin, and multiple award-winning author and essayist Roger Rosenblatt enthralled and amused the audience with the annual keynote address. Rosenblatt drew big laughs with his comments and selected readings about aging and the fury and serenity of a writer’s life.
After awarding the Grand Prize, Rattiner directed the audience to gather in the Guild Hall garden for a cocktail reception and Literary Luminaries Book Signing. All of the Festival’s noted writers—including Behar, Israel, Rosenblatt, Simone and Rattiner—signed books and posed for pictures with guests.
Dan’s Papers would like to extend our sincerest thanks to Barnes & Noble for their major funding of the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction, as well as our excellent sponsors: Paraco, Bai, California Closets, Marders, Union Cantina, Serafina, and Learning with the Brain Mind author Michael Hebron, as well as supporter Alec Baldwin.