Literary Significance

Literary Significance

Chautauqua Institution, dedicated to the exploration of the best of human values and to the enrichment of life, is the pre-eminent expression of lifelong learning in the United States.

More than 100,000 persons who visit Chautauqua during the 2019 season will note the honor of this selection, and The Chautauqua Prize winner and shortlist will be announced through broadcast, print and online media. Chautauqua’s singular multigenerational community offers artistic articulation, social and cultural conversations, and global and national interfaith and political awareness opportunities through approximately 2,200 events staged each summer at our lakeside location in western New York. Our national reach includes book clubs, civic and faith organizations, schools, libraries, and colleges and universities. International Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circles include Japan, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

  1. Chautauqua attracts 4,000-plus in daily audiences for literary-themed weeks and special events:
    1. Literary-themed weeks in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018, with panelists and keynote speakers including Alan Alda, Julie Andrews, Margaret Atwood, Derek Bok, Sissela Bok, Tom Brokaw, Billy Collins, E.L. Doctorow, Anne Fadiman, Jules Feiffer, Emma Walton Hamilton, John Irving, Norman Lear, Jim Lehrer, Alice McDermott, Marsha Norman, Joyce Carol Oates, Ann Patchett, Jane Pauley, Roger Rosenblatt, Elizabeth Strout, Garry Trudeau, Amy Tan, and Meg Wolitzer.
    2. Recent special events and literary lectures include David McCullough (2016), Anthony Doerr (2015), Margaret Atwood (2013), Billy Collins (2016, 2013 & 2010), Ted Kooser (2012), Dan Brown (2011), Stanley Fish (2011), Azar Nafisi (2011), Salman Rushdie (2010), Robert Pinsky (2009)
  2. The Chautauqua Bookstore often sells hundreds of books for an individual book signing. The Chautauqua Bookstore reports sales to The New York Times. We also track our effect on Thousands of sales result from a Chautauqua connection.
  3. Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, founded in 1878 and the oldest continuous U.S. reading course, honors nine to 10 CLSC selections each summer, which feature book cover designation on onsite sales, author honorarium plus visit to Chautauqua, several hundred books sold at Chautauqua Bookstore, plus documented Amazon sales resulting from CLSC designation. Honored writers include Karen Armstrong, Margaret Atwood, Geraldine Brooks, Susan Choi, Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Lynch, Ha Jin, Stanley Kunitz, Bill McKibben, Philipp Meyer, Robert Morgan, Joyce Carol Oates, Téa Obreht, Michael Ondaatje, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tobias Wolfe and David Wroblewski. Click here for a PDF download of the CLSC Historic Book List.
  4. Chautauqua Writers’ Center, founded in 1987, offers 20-plus workshops each summer (from published writers who also teach writing), weekly readings and lectures, plus occasional presentations on publishing, book-to-film, writing for specific audiences, and collaborations with other Institution entities (i.e., Jewish Writing Festival with Everett Jewish Life Center). A preseason Writers’ Festival attracts 72 participants in six intensive workshops.
  5. Special Studies classes (adult continuing education) attract more than 1,000 students in literature and writing courses each summer.
  6. Literary programs are afforded opportunities for collaboration with other expressions of the arts on the Chautauqua Institution grounds, including Chautauqua Theater Company, Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, Everett Jewish Life Center at Chautauqua, and youth programs.
  7. The Chautauqua literary journal publishes original, previously unpublished works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Works chosen embody the vision of Chautauqua, as much a philosophy and an aesthetic as a physical place, whose soul lies in the American passion for self-improvement — the drive to enrich oneself culturally, artistically, morally, and intellectually.
Updated August 8, 2019

Publishers (including trade, university, and small presses), agents, readers, or authors may submit books published in 2015 by living writers.

2020 Chautauqua Prize Entry Form




  1. Eligible books are those published first, or simultaneously, in the United States, in English, in 2019, and made available in hardcover or bound paperback form for purchase by the general public. Date of first publication, not copyright date, applies.
  2. Full-length books of fiction and narrative/literary nonfiction are eligible. Nonfiction may include history, science, religion, memoir, biography, journalism, and all sub-genres of creative nonfiction.
  3. Collections of short stories and collections of essays by one author are eligible.
  4. Authors who have or have not been honored previously at Chautauqua Institution, and who have won or have not won other book awards, are eligible.
  5. Any author of an eligible book, including previous winners, is eligible for consideration each year.
  6. Authors are eligible to receive the prize without regard to nationality or residence.
  7. The author must be living at the time of the closing date for entries (December 15, 2019). In the case of a book by two authors, at least one of the authors must be alive on this date.
  8. Several chapters may have been published previously in magazines or journals, but most of the work must be original to the nominated book with the exception of short story and essay collections.
  9. The following books are not eligible:
    1. An English translation of a book written originally in any other language is not eligible.
    2. Self-published books are not eligible. Chautauqua Institution follows the guidelines set by the National Endowment for the Arts, which qualifies self-publishing as work from presses that: "require individual writers to pay for part or all of the production costs; require writers to buy or sell copies of the publication; publish work without competitive selection or a stated editorial policy; or publish work without professional editing."
    3. Anonymous authors are not eligible.
    4. Anthologies containing work written by multiple authors are not eligible.
    5. A reprint of a book published in a previous award year is not eligible.
    6. In general, cookbooks, self-help books (including inspirational literature), reference books, picture books, graphic novels, or children’s books are not eligible.
  10. In the event of a question as to eligibility, Chautauqua Institution will decide whether a book is eligible, and its decision will be binding. No correspondence will be required, and books and entry fees will not be returned.
  11. Selected longlist authors and publishers will be notified in February, and will be required to:
    1. Designate a week in summer 2020 when the author could accept The Chautauqua Prize at Chautauqua Institution (if selected), at which time the prize winner will give a 30-minute acceptance/reading at an event held in their honor.
    2. Grant permission (if selected) to reproduce portions of the book for Chautauqua publicity purposes, with no additional remuneration.
    3. Grant permission (if selected) for Chautauqua Institution to film his or her acceptance talk, and make it available to the public, for sale or not for sale, with no additional remuneration.
Updated Aug. 8, 2019

After each nominated eligible book is evaluated by three Chautauquan reviewers, the shortlist and winner are chosen by a three-member, independent, anonymous jury.


Out of Darkness, Shining Light Wins 2020 Chautauqua Prize

CHQPrize 2020 winner

Chautauqua Institution is proud to announce Petina Gappah’s Out of Darkness, Shining Light(Scribner) as the 2020 winner of The Chautauqua Prize.

As author of the winning book, Gappah receives $7,500,and will be presented with the Prize — and give a public reading — duringcelebratory event at a date to be determined as part of Chautauqua Institution’s online assembly season this summer.

Gappah’s powerful novel of exploration and adventure in 19th-century Africa, Out of Darkness, Shining Light is a captivating story of those who carried explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone’s body across the continent of Africa, so his remains could be returned home to England. “Rather than repeating the usual legend of the Livingstone expedition, Gappah reinvents the story to reveal the tyranny and complexity of colonial power,” one reader wrote, and the author’s “inspired treatment and graceful prose breathes life into her riveting account.” Another called the work a “Homer-esque, cross-cultural mini-epic; … the odyssey itself is a pleasure in prose.”

Gappah said she was “delighted” to accept the 2020 Chautauqua Prize:

“My primary identity is that of a reader, so it is wonderful to receive an award that is given to books that offer a ‘richly rewarding reading experience,’” Gappah said. “I am grateful that through the power of this award, Livingstone’s companions will now travel to readers who might otherwise not have heard of them. Thank you so much to Chautauqua Institution for this honor, but most of all, thank you for your abiding belief in the power of literature.”

Press Kit:
Full press release | Book Cover | The Chautauqua Prize logo (pdf)

The Chautauqua Prize 2020 Finalists

Chautauqua Institution is pleased to announce seven exceptional books as the 2020 finalists for The Chautauqua Prize, now in its ninth year:

CHQPrize Finalists web 2020 Dekel

CHQPrize Finalists web 2020 Forche

CHQPrize Finalists web 2020 Gappah

CHQPrize Finalists web 2020 Goldberg

Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey
by Mikhal Dekel
(W.W. Norton)

What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance
by Carolyn Forché
(Penguin Press)

Out of Darkness, Shining Light
by Petina Gappah

Feast Your Eyes
by Myla Goldberg

 CHQPrize Finalists web 2020 Hammad

 CHQPrize Finalists web 2020 Perry

 CHQPrize Finalists web 2020 Sudbanthad


The Parisian 
by Isabella Hammad
(Grove Press)

Breathe: A Letter to My Sons
by Imani Perry 
(Beacon Press)

Bangkok Wakes to Rain
by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
(Riverhead Books)