“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” named a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize

April 19, 2013

I’m beginning to realize why Billy Lynn’s walk is so long: because he’s competing for so many prizes.

Ben Fountain’s celebrated novel about a group of Iraq War vets — “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” — has already made the rounds among the big literary contests (a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award). But it continues to show up in smaller contests. Just a few days ago, it was named a finalist for the Southern Indie Bookstore Association‘s fiction prize. Today comes news that it’s a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize.

Started just two years ago, this award recognizes a work of fiction or literary nonfiction “that provides a richly rewarding reading experience.” It also favors authors who have made “a significant contribution to the literary arts.” — i.e. No spectacular debuts need apply.

The other five finalists are:

  • “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher,” by Timothy Egan (HMH)
  • “The Presidents Club,” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (Simon & Schuster)
  • “Devil in the Grove,” by Gilbert King (HarperCollins)
  • “The Song of Achilles,” by Madeline Miller (HarperCollins)
  • “The Names of Things,” by John Colman Wood (Ashland Creek Press)

The winner, announced next month, will receive $7,500. But the more valuable part of the prize may be the all-expenses-paid week at the Chautauqua resort in New York. Every summer, the 138-year-old community on Chautauqua Lake offers a fantastic mix of performing arts, lectures and classes. (Full disclosure: My family has been going for many years, and I served as a very tangential consultant when the Chautauqua Prize was being designed.)

This year the contest drew 125 submissions — twice as many as last year. A panel made up of 50 writers, publishers, critics, editors, librarians, booksellers and teachers who regularly attend the summer program winnowed that list down to a more manageable size. The finalists and the ultimate winner are chosen by a three-member anonymous jury.

Twitter @RonCharles

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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