Ten Finalists Named for 2022 Chautauqua Prize
CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. — Chautauqua Institution is pleased to announce 10 exceptional books as the 2022 finalists for The Chautauqua Prize, now in its 11th year:
• Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II, by Daniel James Brown (Viking)
• Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief, by Victoria Chang (Milkweed Editions)
• Damnation Spring, by Ash Davidson (Scribner)
• All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler, by Rebecca Donner (Little, Brown and Company)
• The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr. (Putnam)
• All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, by Tiya Miles (Penguin Random House)
• Hell of a Book, by Jason Mott (Dutton)
• Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Samantha Silva (Flatiron Books)
• The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights, by Dorothy Wickenden (Scribner)
• Today a Woman Went Mad at the Supermarket: Stories, by Hilma Wolitzer (Bloomsbury Publishing)
These 10 books are the finalists selected from this year’s record-breaking number of submissions from publishers, agents and authors. 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 winning book will be selected from this shortlist and announced in early June.
From the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat comes a gripping World War II saga of patriotism and resistance, focusing on four Japanese American men and their families, and the contributions and sacrifices that they made for the sake of the nation. In Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II, Daniel James Brown creates an unforgettable chronicle of war-time America, from soldiers on the battlefields of Europe, to their immigrant parents forced into life in concentration camps on U.S. soil in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Whether fighting on battlefields or in courtrooms, these were Americans under unprecedented strain, doing what Americans do best — striving, resisting, pushing back, rising up, standing on principle, laying down their lives, and enduring. Readers for The Chautauqua Prize deemed Facing the Mountain “a powerful and important story” filled with “lively prose and vibrant descriptions.” Brown’s characters “practically leap from the page.” This work of narrative nonfiction, one said, is “absolutely riveting and its effect is a powerful and compelling lesson about a dark chapter in our country’s history.”
From Victoria Chang, Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief is a collection of literary letters and mementos on the art of remembering across generations. The remembrances in this collection of letters and vignettes are founded in the fragments of stories her mother shared reluctantly, and the silences of her father, who first would not and then could not share more. They are whittled and sculpted from an archive of family relics: a marriage license, a letter, a visa petition, a photograph. And, just as often, they are built on the questions that can no longer be answered. In carefully crafted collages and missives on trauma, loss and Americanness, Chang grasps on to a sense of self that grief threatens to dissipate. Already a lauded poet, with Dear Memory Chang “elevates her contribution to the literary world to its loftiest heights,” one Prize reader said. This “poetic, epistolatory book” is “rewarding to read on so many levels; … hauntingly beautiful and thought-provoking,” with the power to resonate with many, another said. “The result of her mindful journey is a visual and verbal inspiration that explores the impact of legacy on self-identity and artistic expression.”
In Damnation Spring, Ash Davidson delivers a stunning novel about love, work, and marriage that asks how far one family and one community will go to protect their future. Colleen and Rich Gundersen — a midwife and a tree-topper — are raising their young son on the rugged California coast in 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn’t what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened. And when Colleen challenges Rich’s logging company’s use of herbicides, they find themselves on opposite sides of a budding conflict. As tensions in the town rise, bonds are tested amid a community clinging to a vanishing way of life. Readers described Davidson’s work as “marvelous,” with a “lovely style for a good story” that offered up new insights in the ongoing conversation of conservation and preservation. “This novel, unique and strong, … seems so fresh and real, with compelling prose, deftly drawn characters and significant social, political and economic issues at stake,” according to one Prize reader. “Davidson’s gift of language makes everything seamless.”
The winner of the 2022 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and the National Book Critics Circle Award, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler is Rebecca 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 urgent, 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.”
Robert Jones, Jr.’s debut novel The Prophets, a finalist for the National Book Award, is a stunning work about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence. Isaiah and Samuel belonged together; that was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, and transformed the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when a fellow slave seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. As tensions build and the weight of centuries culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets fearlessly reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love. Readers enthusiastically celebrated Jones’ characters, who “come alive in this book.” “A lyrical work,” one reviewer said, “that is original, engaging, full and tragic.” “An important book,” said others, and “a treasure.”
Renowned historian Tiya Miles has already received numerous accolades for her book All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, including the National Book Award, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis: the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag for her with a few items, and, soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the sack in spare, haunting language. Miles traces the life of a single object handed down through three generations of Black women with faint presences in archival records, and, where archives fall short, she turns to objects, art, and the environment to write a singular history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States. All That She Carried is “well-researched and artfully crafted,” Prize readers said, with Miles at times writing “with a mighty political voice, or with the delicate air of a poet.” Ultimately, one said, it is “a beautifully written chronicle of enslaved life and the inheritances of Black women that ravages the heart.”
Winner of the National Book Award and the Aspen Words Literary Prize — and several other honors — Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book is an astounding work of fiction, always deeply honest, at times electrically funny, that goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans and America as a whole. A Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and more urgent: the stories of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour. As these characters’ stories build and converge, they astonish. Mott’s approach and technique “provide the book with a unique structure,” one reader noted, and as another said, made for a “very clever, very emotional, and yet satisfactory way to tell a difficult contemporary story.” Both the language and structures “are sharp, staccato, knife-like in places. … The book is a prime example of how fiction, circling around and around large, important issues, can be a stronger and more effective means of getting at truth.”
In Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft, Samantha Silva takes her readers to London, 1797, where writer, philosopher and women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft awaits the arrival of the midwife Mrs. Blenkinship — affectionately known as Mrs. B. — who will help bring her child into the world, and support her through the testing 11 days that follow. After the birth, both mother and daughter fight for survival. Even as Wollstonecraft’s strength wanes, she urgently weaves the tale of her life to bind her frail “Little Bird” close. Wollstonecraft’s journey to vindicate the rights of women spanned Europe and broke the conventions of the time. Amid the triumph and loss, she blazed a trail and passed that legacy on to her child, the future Mary Shelley. Love and Fury reclaims the all-too-brief moment when the stories of mother and daughter overlapped, and is a lyrical and moving tribute to an influential thinker and a remarkable woman. In Love and Fury, Prize readers noted, Silva creates an insightful piece of historical fiction.” “This book is the perfect package,” one wrote; “a nuanced portrayal of the deeply complex, intelligent and culture-shifting Mary Wollstonecraft … written in such a compelling narrative style” that readers feel they are in the room with the characters.
From the executive editor of The New Yorker, Dorothy Wickenden, comes The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights — a riveting, provocative, and revelatory history of abolition and women’s rights, told through the story of Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Wright in the years before, during and after the Civil War. In the 1850s, Harriet Tubman rescued some 70 enslaved people from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and shepherded them north along the underground railroad. One of her regular stops was Auburn, New York, where she entrusted passengers to Martha Coffin Wright, a Quaker mother of seven, and Frances A. Seward, the wife of politician William H. Seward. Through richly detailed letters from the time and exhaustive research, Wickenden traces the second American revolution these women fought to bring about, the toll it took on their families, and its lasting effects on the country. Riveting and profoundly relevant, The Agitators brings a vibrant, original voice to this transformative period in our history. “This is a huge and terrific book,” one Prize reader said. Another observed that while “(Wickenden) notes that she is a journalist, not a historian, this biography offers the best elements of both kinds of writing. … The writing is fluid, dramatic, and entirely accessible.”
From her many well-loved novels, Hilma Wolitzer ― now 92 years old and at the top of her game ― has gained a reputation as one of our best fiction writers; now, Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket showcases an uncannily relevant, deliciously clear-eyed collection of short stories that are evocative of an era that still resonates deeply today. In the title story, originally published in 1966, a bystander tries to soothe a woman who seems to have cracked under the pressures of her life and the society she lives in. And in several linked stories, the relationship between the narrator and her husband unfolds in telling, sometimes-absurd and bittersweet vignettes. Of their time and yet timeless, Wolitzer’s stories zero in on the domestic sphere with wit, candor, grace, and an acutely observant eye. Brilliantly capturing the tensions and contradictions of daily life, Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket reintroduces a beloved writer to be embraced by a whole new generation of readers. “There’s a wry sensibility at work in these stories of wishes versus reality; of the disappointments and pleasures of daily life,” one Prize reader said, and Wolitzer “plumbs the domestic and emotional lives of female protagonists who are of their times and places — but who also transcend the same.”
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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