Eula Biss’ ‘Having and Being Had’ Wins 2021 Chautauqua Prize
Author Will Give Reading as Part of the Digital CHQ Assembly Platform
CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. — Chautauqua Institution today proudly announces 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.
Praise for Having and Being Had
“Eula Biss’s prescient new collection gave me new language for things I didn’t know I felt about money, capitalism and my place inside of an economy that always requires so much of me and gives back so little. A brilliant, lacerating re-examination of our relationship to what we own and why, and who in turn might own us in ways we didn’t know we consented to — what could be more necessary now?”
—Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and How To Write An Autobiographical Novel
“In this witty, genre-bending book, Eula Biss smashes the taboo against talking about money with exhilarating results. Her investigation ranges from the strictly financial to the broadly philosophical as she accounts for her life with disarming honesty and grace.”
—Jenny Offill, author of Dept. Of Speculation and Weather
“A major achievement. Having and Being Had, rather than leading through narrative, turns individual words and phrases, like ‘capitalism,’ ‘consumers,’ ‘great America,’ ‘husbandry,’ ‘art,’ and ‘work,’ into fields of inquiry in order to frame a life. With astute consideration, this expansive and intimate accumulation asks the questions that touch all our lives.”
—Claudia Rankine, Los Angeles Times Book Award and National Book Critics Circle award-winning poet
“Eula Biss is known for stepping off the plank into turbulent waters that others might fear or avoid, armed with wry wit and a radical lucidity. Having and Being Had continues this journey, offering us a probing tour of capitalism and class that sidesteps posturing and jargon in favor of clarity, humility, and incitement.”
—Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
“A stylish, meditative inquiry into the function and meaning of twenty-first-century capitalism. … Biss doesn’t shy away from acknowledging her own privilege, and laces her reflections with unexpected insights and a sharp yet ingratiating sense of humor. … This eloquent, well-informed account recasts the everyday world in a sharp new light.”
ABOUT CHAUTAUQUA LITERARY ARTS
With a history steeped in the literary arts, Chautauqua Institution is the home of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, founded in 1878, which honors at least nine outstanding books of fiction, nonfiction, essays and poetry with community discussions and author presentations every summer. Further literary arts programs at Chautauqua include the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, which convenes writers each June in workshops, panels, and other conversations that draw fruitful and urgent connections between the personal, the political and the craft of writing, as well as the summer-long workshops, craft lectures and readings from some of the very best author-educators in North America at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.
ABOUT CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION
Chautauqua Institution is a community on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York state that comes alive each summer — and year-round through the CHQ Assembly online platforms — with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. As a community, we celebrate, encourage and study the arts and treat them as integral to all of learning, and we convene the critical conversations of the day to advance understanding through civil dialogue.
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