Hamptons Lit: A Summer of Books, Readings, Prizes, Awards and Lectures

Books, writing and reading are alive and well on the East End. In recent years, a number of different events to celebrate books and writing have sprung up in the Hamptons, notably two in East Hampton and two in Southampton, and they have come to involve thousands of people.

Throughout the winter and spring, a literary salon has been held on a select Saturday each month at the Southampton Inn on Hill Street. Hors d’oeuvres are served, and the efforts of three or four essayists are showcased as they read their works to an audience seated in the Inn’s beautiful living room. These essayists are selected by the staff of Dan’s Papers, and the event honors the annual Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction competition, which begins every March and continues on until an awards ceremony in August (more about which later). The final literary salon until next fall takes place on April 25 at 5 p.m.

The next literary event of the season is the Southampton Writers Conference, which convenes over a 12-day period from July 9 to 20 at the Stony Brook Southampton campus. Between those two dates, workshops are held in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction at a variety of venues on that campus. Those attending the conference are a mix of undergraduates from the main campus, students from afar, summer and local residents of the Hamptons, and MFA program students hoping to sharpen their skills. There are classes, readings, assignments, one-on-ones, lectures and cocktail parties during that time. Several of the events, mostly lectures and readings by different authors, are open to the general public.

The full 12-day conference may be taken for three credits or as workshops (prices range from $703 to $2,326; housing is available for the summer program at an additional cost). It’s possible to take a shortened version of the Conference—a five-day “Intensive” program is held from July 9 to 13—and there is also a Children’s Literature Intensive five-day program that runs from July 16 to 20. Five-day programs are available for two credits or as workshops (costs range from $738 to $1,495).

Much of the faculty for this summer conference comes from the university’s MFA in writing program. The faculty for this year’s program includes poet Billy Collins (poet laureate for the United States from 2001–2003), author Roger Rosenblatt, Meg Wollitzer, Libba Bray, Patricia Marx, Peter Lerangis, Frederic Tuten and many more. This summer writer’s conference is considered one of the best of its kind in the country.

And there are guest artists. Among those in 2013 were Laurie Anderson, Star Black, Annette Handley Chandler, Bill Collage, Neal Gabler, Robert Emmett Ginna, Elena Gorokhova, Suzanne Gluck, Emma Walton Hamilton, Amy Hobby, Bob Holman, Peggy Kern, Zachary Lazar, Jim Lehrer, Patricia Marx, D.T. Max, Joe Pintauro, Roy Raj, James Salter, Reneé Shafransky, Terrie Sultan and many others. (For more information information, visit stonybrook.edu/southampton and click on Creative Writing & Literature.)

The next event of the season for those interested in writing, authors and books is the annual Authors Night for the East Hampton Library in East Hampton, on Saturday, August 9, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Authors Night, hosted by the East Hampton Library, is a benefit for that institution that every year raises hundreds of thousands of dollars. A large tent is set up in a field (this year the location has not yet been announced), and authors are invited to bring copies of their books, set them up at individual tables, and sell them to guests attending the event. The authors or their publishers donate the books, and all proceeds go to the library. Last year, about 2,000 people attended, milling around among the authors seated at their tables, buying the books by paying representatives of the library at registers as they left. This melee under the tent—paparazzi abound—is also a cocktail party, with hors d’oeuvres from many local restaurants. The cost to attend is $100 per person, and 100% of the funds raised—which last year totaled $75,000 in book sales alone—go to the library.

After 7 p.m., the event breaks up under the tent and dinners are served at private homes around the community, hosted by the owners of those homes, where individual authors are honored. There are more than 25 dinners, and people pay up to $2,500 to attend and meet the author, ask questions and listen to a reading by the writer they are honoring. Among the hosts last year were Carrie and Vas Karyasov, who hosted Gwyneth Paltrow; Larry Gagosian, who hosted Clive Davis; Jane Friedman, who hosted Nelson DeMille; Janet C. Ross, who hosted Robert A. Caro; Tom Twomey and Judith Hope, who hosted Robert K. Massie; Mort Zuckerman, who hosted Mark Mazzetti; Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley, who hosted Philippe Petit; Florence and Richard Fabricant, who hosted Marcus Samuelsson; and Joe and Lucy Kazickas, who hosted Larry Schiller. Dinner party hosts generously underwrite all of their party expenses, with 100% of the dinner party ticket cost going to the library.

The final literary event of the season is the awards ceremony of the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize for Nonfiction, held at the John Drew Theater in East Hampton at 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 16. The writing competition, now in its third year, is run by this newspaper and accepts entries that are nonfiction, between 600 and 1,500 words, and that reference eastern Long Island in some meaningful way.

Between March 1 and July 21, when the competition ends, more than 500 people are expected to have entered essays at LiteraryPrize.DansPapers.com in the hopes of winning the $5,000 first prize or one of the two $500 runners-up prizes. In addition, beginning this year, the Dan’s Papers Literary Scholarship is being provided by Dan’s Papers to a student at Stony Brook University—the recipient to be chosen by the university—who is pursuing a career in writing.

Who wins the writing competition will be announced onstage at the John Drew Theater on this exciting August afternoon by Len Riggio, Chairman of Barnes & Noble, after which Academy Award winner Mercedes Ruehl will read the first-place entry. To open the festivities that day, this author will give introductory remarks, and a keynote speech will be given by Walter Isaacson, the director of the Aspen Institute and author of the biography Steve Jobs.

Standing-room-only crowds have been on hand at the first two ceremonies. Double Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro gave the keynote speech at the first awards ceremony, in 2011, and author E.L. Doctorow gave the speech at the second. At each of those two events, Emmy Award winner Pia Lindstrom read the winning entry to the audience.

The Dan’s Papers Literary Prize is sponsored by Hampton Jitney, the Southampton Inn, Bobby Van’s, Sotto Sopra, Two Trees Farms, Bridgehampton National Bank, Ovation Travel, BK Builders and Hamptons H2O. Major funding is provided by Barnes & Noble.

It’s going to be a great summer for books, writing and reading works aloud. There will also be readings at Books & Books in Westhampton Beach; BookHampton in East Hampton, Southampton and Mattituck; Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor; and local libraries. Check events.danspapers.com to find them all.

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