Chautauqua Institution is delighted to announce “Jean” by Stephanie Nina Pitsirilos as the winner of the 2022 Chautauqua Janus Prize
As the author selected from five finalists by guest judge Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Pitsirilos will receive $5,000 and will give a public lecture and reading at a celebratory event 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in the parlor of the Athenaeum Hotel as part of the Chautauqua Institution’s 2022 Summer Assembly.
A prose and comic book writer with work in numerous anthologies and a 2021 Broken Pencil finalist zinester, Pitsirilos has been called a new voice “transforming the genres” of science fiction and fantasy, and “revitalizing the short comic form.” She holds degrees from the University of Michigan and Columbia University. She’s also a board member of Graphic Mundi (Penn State University Press) and a submissions panelist for CEX Publishing.
“Jean,” which first appeared in Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology (Mad Creek Books, 2021) is “a bold and masterful rearranging of genres, part speculative fiction, part family memoir, that uses comic book pop culture to tell a deeply moving story of intergenerational trauma in the United States,” said Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts at Chautauqua Institution.
“This, right here,” Ton-Aime said, “is the kind of writing that the Chautauqua Janus Prize was founded to find and celebrate.”
It’s a sentiment that Pitsirilos shares.
“When I saw that there was a prize echoing the Sankofa — a bird that brings the past to the present as it moves to the future — a prize that welcomes new voices, but with a Roman name … I felt welcome to submit,” Pitsirilos said. “Receiving the Chautauqua Janus Prize is an affirmation of intuition, of breaking the rules. It celebrates that I’m carving a road for myself and my art of storytelling with the support of readers, editors and institutions. It’s a call for my longer works to be given their place.”
Winning the Chautauqua Janus Prize, Pitsirilos said, especially for “Jean,” means validation and visibility for both her and her community.
“‘Jean’ was the one story I wished the universe would grant an audience, if I had to choose only one. Gentrification, colonization erase the history of neighborhoods, of people,” she said. “I wanted family narratives preserved through the art of fiction. Then there are comic books, and what works like the X-Men and the strong female narratives of Chris Claremont do for those deemed or who feel ‘other,’ or challenged.”
Sloan, the guest judge for the 2022 Janus Prize, calls the narrative voice in “Jean” “fully realized, often hilarious, which acts as the perfect vehicle to move through a family’s experience of inherited trauma, all the while teaching us how to see through the eyes of a time traveling space robot. A sense of curiosity and gorgeously drawn characters compel us forward, but the richness of language, these expertly built scenes, create sufficient space for us to wander around. These sentences are magical, loaded with history and memory and color and space-time and sound.”
Ton-Aime said that he was grateful to Sloan, “for selecting, thus gifting our community, a story that will stay with us for a long time, and a writer whose career we can all be certain will soar like a spaceship.”
Sloan was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her essay collection The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013 and her essay collection Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit, was chosen by Maggie Nelson as the winner of the 1913 Open Prose Contest and published in 2017. That book went on to be nominated for the Iowa Essay Prize, and to win CLMP’s Firecracker award for Nonfiction. Her most recent book-length essay is Borealis, published by Coffee House Press in 2021.
ABOUT THE CHAUTAUQUA JANUS PRIZE
The Chautauqua Janus Prize will be awarded for the fifth time this summer, celebrating an emerging writer’s single work of short fiction or nonfiction for daring formal and aesthetic innovations that upset and reorder readers’ imaginations. In addition to receiving a $5,000 award, the winner gives a lecture on the grounds during the summer season and appears in a forthcoming issue of the literary journal Chautauqua. Named for Janus, the Roman god who looks to both the past and the future, the prize will honor writing with a command of craft that renovates our understandings of both. The prize is funded by a generous donation from Barbara and Twig Branch. Eligible short prose that is either unpublished or published after Jan. 31, 2022, will be accepted as submissions for the 2023 prize beginning this fall.
ABOUT CHAUTAUQUA LITERARY ARTS
With a history steeped in the literary arts, Chautauqua Institution is the home of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, founded in 1878, which honors at least nine outstanding books of fiction, nonfiction, essays and poetry with community discussions and author presentations every summer. Further literary arts programs at Chautauqua include the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, which convenes writers each June in workshops, panels, and other conversations that draw fruitful and urgent connections between the personal, the political and the craft of writing, as well as the summer-long workshops, craft lectures and readings from some of the very best author-educators in North America at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.
ABOUT CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION
Chautauqua Institution is a community on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York state that comes alive each summer — and year-round through the CHQ Assembly online platforms — with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. As a community, we celebrate, encourage and study the arts and treat them as integral to all of learning, and we convene the critical conversations of the day to advance understanding through civil dialogue.
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