Friday, May 14, 2021


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Chautauqua Institute:
Eight Finalists Named for 2021 Literary Arts Chautauqua Prize

Chautauqua Institution is pleased to announce eight excep-tional books as the 2021 finalists for The Chautauqua Prize, now in its 10th year:  

  • Having and Being Had, by Eula Biss (Riverhead Books)   
  • The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich (Harper Collins)  
  • The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories, by Danielle Evans (Riverhead Books) 
  • Transcendent Kingdom, by Yaa Gyasi (Alfred A. Knopf) 
  • The Bear, by Andrew Krivak (Bellevue Literary Press)   
  • Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey (ECCO)  
  • Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer, and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South, by Matthew Van Meter (Little, Brown) 
  • How Much of These Hills is Gold, by C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books) 

  • The Chautauqua Prize, inspired since its inception by the late literary and entertainment industry attorney Michael Rudell, and his wife, Alice, 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 late May.

    Having just purchased her first home, in Having and Being Had the poet and essayist Eula Biss embarks on a provocative exploration of the value system she has bought into. Examining our assumptions about class and property and the ways we internalize the demands of capitalism, Biss offers an uncommonly immersive and deeply revealing new portrait of work and luxury, of accumulation and consumption, of the value of time and how we spend it. Chautauqua Prize readers described Biss as “a provocative thinker who has constructed a book about possessions, economic systems, work, class, money that is lyrical in tone,” and whose writing “encourages us to sit and think in uncomfortable psychic spaces.” “The writing,” another reader wrote, “is simply terrific.” 

    Based on the life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., The Night Watchman explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling of a master craftsman. Readers described Erdrich’s novel as “deeply informed, gritty, luminous, poetic and solidly grounded in human experience,” and creating a world “peopled by a colorful, convincing cast of characters.” Her “excellent storytelling … is enhanced by the everyday, exact details that immerse readers into an intimate portrait of reservation culture.”  

    Widely acclaimed for her blisteringly smart voice and X-ray insights into complex human relationships, Danielle Evans’ latest work, The Office of Historical Corrections, zooms in on particular moments and relationships in her characters’ lives in a way that allows them to speak to larger issues of race, culture, and history, exploring how history haunts us, personally and collectively. The collection, one reader wrote, is “remarkably clever in its currency and social relevance.” “One doesn’t often encounter such a deft and timely, almost prescient, hand at a form of fiction that is so cohesive, yet varied (and) surprising,” wrote another. “Readable and relatable,” one described it, “piercing without grimness.” 

    Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief — a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Gifty is a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine; after losing her brother to a heroin overdose and her mother to depression, she seeks answers in hard science while hungering for her childhood faith. Gyasi’s main character of Gifty, one reader wrote, “really is a gift.” In lauding the “skill and quality of the writing,” another reader noted that “not one word, sentence or paragraph is wasted in this devastating account of a young woman’s ultimate salvation.” 

    From previous Chautauqua Prize winner Andrew Krivak comes a fable of Earth’s last two human inhabitants. In the Edenic future of The Bear, a girl and her father live close to the land, possess few remnants of civilization, and the father prepares the girl for an adulthood in harmony with nature. But alone in an unknown landscape, it is a bear that will lead the home through a wilderness that offers the greatest lessons of all, if she can only learn to listen. Readers lauded the book’s “dreamlike, imaginative quality and beautiful passages” and the “lyrical, poetic writing.” In The Bear, one noted, Krivak has created a “lovely exploration of the interconnectedness of all things in nature.” 

    A chillingly personal and exquisitely wrought memoir from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, Memorial Drive is a reckoning with the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather, and the moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of a tragedy. With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Trethewey creates a “searing and poignant” work that, while haunting, is a “pleasure to read,” according to Prize readers. “I was left breathless,” wrote one reader, by “this gently written book.” Ultimately, one reader wrote, “her portrait of her mother is a loving tribute.” 

    In 1966 in a small town in Louisiana, a 19-year-old black man named Gary Duncan pulled his car off the road to stop a fight. Duncan was arrested a few minutes later for the crime of putting his hand on the arm of a white child. Rather than accepting his fate, Duncan found Richard Sobol, a brilliant, 29-year-old lawyer from New York who was the only white attorney at "the most radical law firm" in New Orleans. In Deep Delta Justice, journalist Matthew Van Meter brings alive how a seemingly minor incident brought massive, systemic change to the criminal justice system. Through first-person interviews and in-depth research, “Van Meter draws his characters as skillfully as any novelist,” one reader noted. "This book,” wrote another, “is a must-read.” 

    In an electric debut novel set against the twilight of the American gold rush, two siblings are on the run in an unforgiving landscape — trying not just to survive but to find a home. Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold is a haunting adventure story, an unforgettable sibling story, and the announcement of a stunning new voice in literature. “The prose is exquisite,” one reader said of Zhang’s “beautifully crafted novel.” Zhang’s debut is one of “haunting and original storytelling … that spurs readers to question our historical and present notions of belonging, the power of memory, and what it means to yearn for and build a home.” It is, another reader stated, “the kind of reading experience I dream of.”       


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