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2021 Chautauqua Prize Winner Announced
Chautauqua Institution has announced Having and Being Had (Riverhead Books) by Eula Biss as the 2021 winner of The Chautauqua Prize.
As author of the winning book, Biss receives $7,500, and will be presented with the Prize — and give a public reading — during a celebratory event set for 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, on the digital CHQ Assembly platform.
Having just purchased her first home, in Having and Being Had the poet and essayist Eula Biss embarks on a provocative and delightful exploration of the value system she has bought into. Examining our assumptions about class and property and the lure 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.”
“I’m tremendously grateful for this recognition of the thought and work that went into Having and Being Had,” Biss said. “This prize comes at a moment when I’m reimagining my work life, and it is particularly meaningful coming from an institution with such a long history of supporting artists who are pursuing their craft.”
Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill noted the prescience of Biss’ work, published during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a national conversation surrounding class and capitalism.
“I can imagine someone reading this book 20 years from now and discovering the true nuance of the moment in which we are all living,” Hill said. “Eula charms the reader with a disarming authenticity, leveraging essay, poetics, philosophy and economics to frame and raise anew the germane questions and challenges of life.”
Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt, whose department coordinates the Prize, described Having and Being Had as “a work of personal inquiry and lyrical meditation that is nevertheless structured to push us as readers into a similar position, to examine ourselves and our decisions — often in ways that are uncomfortable and unsettling. The power of Biss’ work is how it stays with the reader, the start of a longer journey of exploration and introspection as consumers, as workers, as citizens, as humans.”
Having and Being Had has also been named as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and a best book of 2020 by Time, NPR, InStyle and Good Housekeeping.
Biss is the author of four books and a founding editor of Essay Press. Her second book, Notes from No Man’s Land, won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. Her third book, On Immunity: An Inoculation, was one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2014 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. Other awards include the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Pushcart Prize. A Guggenheim Fellow, Biss holds a bachelor’s degree in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
The Chautauqua Prize, this year awarded for the 10th time, has been inspired since its inception by the late literary and entertainment industry attorney Michael Rudell, and his wife, Alice. The Prize draws upon Chautauqua Institution’s considerable literary legacy to celebrate a book of fiction or literary/narrative nonfiction that provides a richly rewarding reading experience and to honor the author for a significant contribution to the literary arts. Previous winners include The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak (2012); Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, by Timothy Egan (2013); My Foreign Cities, by Elizabeth Scarboro (2014); Redeployment, by Phil Klay (2015); Off the Radar, by Cyrus Copeland (2016); The Fortunes, by Peter Ho Davies (2017); The Fact of a Body, by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich (2018); All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva (2019); and Out of Darkness, Shining Light, by Petina Gappah (2020).
Winners of The Chautauqua Prize are noteworthy for their capacity to open inquiry and create an inviting space for conversation among many different kinds of readers, making the books an ideal vehicle to engage in Chautauqua Institution’s historic tradition of reading and discussion in community. Chautauqua’s other annual literary award, the Chautauqua Janus Prize, celebrates experimental writers who have not yet published a book. Taken together, these prizes ensure that both tradition and innovation live at the heart of a Chautauqua reader’s life of learning.
Details on The Chautauqua Prize are available online at prize.chq.org. Books published in 2021 will be accepted as submissions for the 2022 Prize beginning in September 2021.
(A note to CLSC members: while Chautauqua Prize Winners are not technically CLSC selections, they do count toward graduation requirements.)