Rebecca Donner’s ‘All The Frequent Troubles Of Our Days’ Wins 2022 Chautauqua Prize
Author Will Give Public Reading at Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 5
CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. — Chautauqua Institution today proudly announces All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little, Brown and Company) by Rebecca Donner as the 2022 winner of The Chautauqua Prize.
Awarded annually since 2012, The Chautauqua Prize celebrates a book of fiction or literary/narrative nonfiction that provides a richly rewarding reading experience and to honor the author for a significant contribution to the literary arts. As author of this year’s winning book, Donner receives $7,500, and will be presented with the Prize during a celebratory event and public reading at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Chautauqua’s Hall of Philosophy.
“I am immeasurably grateful to Chautauqua Institution for this honor,” Donner said. “During this fraught time in the world, with authoritarianism worryingly on the rise, the story of Mildred Harnack’s audacious opposition to Hitler is more relevant and urgent than ever.”
All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler is Donner’s chronicle of the extraordinary life and brutal death of her great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during World War II — the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, in fact, yet almost unknown until now. Donner draws on her extensive archival research as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive, fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story. Prize readers lauded Donner’s prescient use of the present tense in this “stunning” book of history and biography, calling it a “striking triumph.” “Through exhaustive research and terrific narrative, she breathes new life into biography, creating a book that reads like a suspense drama … and transcends history with a powerful message for our times,” according to one reader. “Explorations into individual courage, the fragility of democracy, the lure of demagoguery, the consequences of economic insecurity, … could hardly be more urgent.”
Sony Ton-Aime, Chautauqua Institution’s Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts, who holds the endowed position named for the man who initially inspired and supported The Chautauqua Prize, described All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days as “one of those rare books that is both extremely important and offers an engaging reading experience.”
“It is truly the kind of book that The Chautauqua Prize was founded to elevate,” Ton-Aime said. “With dazzling prose and innovative storytelling, it reimagines history writing and, frankly, raises the bar for all future historians. Mildred Harnack’s extraordinary life was indeed a saga, and Rebecca Donner, in this epic telling, did it justice.”
Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill shared Ton-Aime’s enthusiasm for All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, and both Donner’s and Prize readers’ observations on the book’s relevancy and exigency.
“When it comes to history, especially when it comes to humanity’s darkest hours, there are things we can only know in hindsight,” Hill said. “But there are those courageous few who can see with utter clarity looming threats in real time and act. Mildred Harnack was one of those people, and so Rebecca Donner writes not just with the authority of a historian, but with the qualities of one who is inheriting a family legacy, writing with such imperativeness and ‘now-ness’ to sound the alarm in much the same way as her great-great aunt. These are not just the frequent troubles of Mildred’s days, but of our days, and may we all be as brave as her.”
Drawing on both archival research, primary sources — including a series of interviews with Harnack’s young courier, Don Heath — and troves of diaries, letters and photographs, Donner, “in her prose, writes history into the present in the most powerful of ways, reminding us that the past is always with us, there for us as we contend with, and respond to, the challenges of the right now,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, whose department coordinates the Prize. “It is an honor to celebrate this book, and this author, with our flagship literary prize.”
All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days has won the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and the 2022 PEN /Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Plutarch Award. The book was also selected as a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2021, a New York Times Notable Book, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and was named one of the Best Books of 2021 by The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine and The Economist. A Hebrew translation is forthcoming from Matar Publishing in Israel.
Donner was recently awarded a 2022 Guggenheim fellowship. She was a 2018–19 fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the City University of New York, is a two-time Yaddo fellow, and has twice been awarded fellowships by the Ucross Foundation. She has also held residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Vermont Studio Center. Donner is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, and has taught at Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and Barnard College. Born in Canada, Donner was educated at the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University. She is the author of Sunset Terrace, a critically acclaimed novel, and Burnout, a graphic novel about ecoterrorism.
The Chautauqua Prize, this year awarded for the 11th time, has been inspired since its inception by the late literary and entertainment industry attorney Michael I. Rudell, and his wife, Alice. Previous winners include The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak (2012); Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, by Timothy Egan (2013); My Foreign Cities, by Elizabeth Scarboro (2014); Redeployment, by Phil Klay (2015); Off the Radar, by Cyrus Copeland (2016); The Fortunes, by Peter Ho Davies (2017); The Fact of a Body, by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich (2018); All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva (2019); Out of Darkness, Shining Light, by Petina Gappah (2020); and Having and Being Had, by Eula Biss (2021).
Winners of The Chautauqua Prize are noteworthy for their capacity to open inquiry and create an inviting space for conversation among many different kinds of readers, making the books an ideal vehicle to engage in Chautauqua Institution’s historic tradition of reading and discussion in community. Chautauqua’s other annual literary award, the Chautauqua Janus Prize, celebrates experimental writers who have not yet published a book. Taken together, these prizes ensure that both tradition and innovation live at the heart of a Chautauqua reader’s life of learning.
Details on The Chautauqua Prize are available online at prize.chq.org. Books published in 2022 will be accepted as submissions for the 2023 Prize beginning in September 2022.
Praise for All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days
“Rebecca Donner has written a beautifully rich portrait of a very brave woman. While never less than scrupulously researched, this biography explodes the genre of ‘biography’: experimental but achieved, Donner’s story reads with the speed of a thriller, the depth of a novel, and the urgency of an essay, like some deeply compelling blend of Alan Furst and W.G. Sebald.”
―James Wood, author of Serious Nothing
“Highly evocative, deeply moving, a stunning literary achievement. Rebecca Donner forges a new kind of biography — almost novelistic in style and tone, this scholarly work resurrects the courageous life Mildred Harnack, an unsung American hero who led part of the German resistance to the Nazi regime. A relentless sleuth in the archives, Donner has written a page-turner story of espionage, love, and betrayal.”
―Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography
“How can it happen that a constitution, a free press, and a democracy be demolished—all within six months? This powerfully written story of Mildred Harnack, resistance fighter against Hitler, tells step by step the way the German republic fell to the Nazis. Read All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, and be warned.”
―Maxine Hong Kingston, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning The Woman Warrior and the National Book Award-winning China Men.
“At once boldly imagined and lovingly researched, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days sets the remarkable story of resistance fighter Mildred Harnack against the backdrop of daily life in Germany as Hitler tightened his grip on the nation. Epic in sweep, written with a novelist’s attention to detail and a historian’s perspective on social and political forces, this book opens up new possibilities for biography.”
―Ruth Franklin, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
“Combining meticulous scholarship and sparkling narrative brio, Rebecca Donner’s All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days brings to life for the first time the central role played by underground activist Mildred Harnack in Germany’s homegrown opposition to Nazi rule. That Harnack was an American woman from Wisconsin only adds to the complexity of this stirring and tragic story, which culminates in the Harnack group’s ill-fated clandestine campaign to undermine Hitler’s regime. More broadly, Donner’s portrait of the cruelly oppressive system against which Harnack and her circle fought can serve to remind us of what can happen when, amidst economic insecurity and anguish over dislocating socio-cultural change, a highly civilized nation embraces demagoguery over democracy.”
―David Clay Large, author of Berlin
ABOUT THE CHAUTAUQUA PRIZE
Awarded annually since 2012, The Chautauqua Prize draws upon Chautauqua Institution’s considerable literary legacy to celebrate a book that provides a richly rewarding reading experience and to honor the author for a significant contribution to the literary arts. The author of the winning book will receive $7,500, and will participate in a Prize ceremony and reading on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution during the 2022 Summer Assembly Season. For more information, visit prize.chq.org.
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. Chautauqua Literary Arts is led by the Michael I. Rudell Director of the Literary Arts, an endowed chair established in memory of a beloved Chautauquan who, among other things, inspired Chautauqua’s first literary award, The Chautauqua Prize.
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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