The Washington Post

Chautauqua Institution announces new literary prize

Passed over for the Booker? Left out of the National Book Award finalists? Relax, there’s still hope you.

The Chautauqua Institution. (Ron Charles/The Washington Post)

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.

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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