The Chautauqua Institute, that tony adult education center in western New York, announced today the creation of the annual Chautauqua Prize. Fiction and literary nonfiction first published in the United States during 2011 may be submitted by publishers, agents, authors and even readers — anyone willing to send in $60 and eight copies of the book. (E-regrets: This contest is for bound books only.)
Beyond those broad guidelines and a requirement that the author be alive, the Chautauqua Prize aims merely to “celebrate a book that provides a richly rewarding reading experience and honor the author for a significant contribution to the literary arts.”
The winner will receive $7,500 and — possibly even more valuable — an all-expenses-paid one-week trip for two to the Chautauqua summer program. Just in case you don’t win, start saving now: Suites at the gracious Athenaeum Hotel run more than $500 a night. (Name-dropping disguised as full disclosure: My brother has a house on the campus.)
As the seat of the country’s oldest continuously meeting book club, Chautauqua makes a natural sponsor for a national literary award. Every summer some of the world’s most prominent authors, politicians and scientists speak to thousands of well-heeled guests who swarm to this idyllic setting on Chautauqua Lake. (Several years ago, Jane Goodall taught my younger daughter how to say “hello” in chimpanzee.) As a very minor and informal consultant during the planning stages of this prize, I’m eager to see who wins the first time this summer.