Author Will Give Public Lecture and Reading at Chautauqua Institution on July 25

Chautauqua Institution is delighted to announce Atlas of the Body (Black Lawrence Press) by Nicole Cuffy as the 2018 winner of The Chautauqua Janus Prize. 

As the author selected from 16 finalists by judge Kazim Ali, Cuffy receives $2,500 and all travel and expenses for a summer residency at Chautauqua from July 22 to 28, 2018. A public lecture and reading will take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor on the Institution's grounds. Her writing will also appear in a future issue of the literary journal Chautauqua.

Cuffy described her excitement about the prize’s relevance to her work, saying that “in Atlas of the Body, I asked myself what would happen if I treated prose as more pointillistic than linear — if I used narrative to offer brief islands of illumination. I am honored to be the first recipient of the Chautauqua Janus Prize, which celebrates the deconstruction of form and literary convention.”

Atlas of the Body follows Maya, whose childhood fascination with anatomy and adult pursuit of a career in medicine leads her to discover what it means to lose — and what it means to break free. It was an editor’s choice and finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition, published by Black Lawrence Press in March 2018.

Director of Literary Arts Atom Atkinson added that the connections Cuffy draws with the prize are apt for Chautauqua Institution.

“Nicole has written a bildungsroman that actually opens and closes and leaps the way so many spiritual educations do, which I might have said was next to impossible to accomplish on the page before reading her work,” Atkinson said. “It requires narrative daring to trace the experience of living in a body and carrying a past inside it, and Atlas of the Body succeeds in just a few pages.”

Inaugural judge Kazim Ali said that all of the finalists were exceptional but that Atlas of the Body demanded particular praise.

“Nicole Cuffy’s musical and evocative prose makes the lyric somehow epic,” Ali said. “Atlas of the Body is told in brief in-between moments but manages to convey the whole texture of a life. Her fiction has a fine weave and reverberates long past the page into the ear."

Cuffy is a New York-based writer, whose work also appears in Mason’s Road and The Master’s Review Volume VI. She received her M.F.A. from the New School and her Bachelor of the Arts from Columbia University.

Ali, the inaugural judge, is most recently the author of Inquisition, a book of poems, and Silver Road: Essays, Maps & Calligraphies, a hybrid memoir. An associate professor of creative writing and comparative literature at Oberlin College, he will also be a Chautauqua Writers’ Center writer-in-residence during Cuffy’s residency, leading a prose workshop called “Writing Oneself in Time and Space.”

The Chautauqua Janus Prize, this year awarded for the first time, is an annual prize that celebrates an emerging writer’s single work of short fiction or nonfiction for daring formal and aesthetic innovations that upset and reorder literary conventions, historical narratives and readers’ imaginations. Named for Janus, the Roman god who looks to both the past and the future, the prize will honor writing with a command of craft that renovates our understandings of both. The prize is funded by a generous donation from Barbara and Twig Branch.

Details on The Chautauqua Janus Prize are available online at chq.org/janus. Eligible short prose that is either unpublished or published after March 31, 2018, will be accepted as submissions for the 2019 Prize beginning in September 2018. 

 


Praise for Atlas of the Body


“A poetic narrative of class, time, memory, and love, binding body to body, leaving its mark on the skin, and pulling us ever backward to our very first wounds.”

—Sarah Gerard, author of Sunshine State: Essays and Binary Star


“Nicole Cuffy’s Atlas of the Body invents a new form: short fiction with the scope and ambition of a novel comprising vignettes of lyrical prose. Form itself is at question here: the composition of the body, the person it does or does not contain, how much of it is lost in representation. A bildungsroman, the story follows Maya and her beloved Zaire as they roam their impoverished hometown in the American south wild and free, ‘where everything in the world is their mother,’ and continues through Maya’s adulthood, where she alone must confront the demands of personhood and privilege. All of this unfolds in passages that are alternately compressed and precise, meditative and expansive. Cuffy is an expert conjurer, drawing buried questions from ‘smudges on a cave wall’: ‘from the first shadow to stumble out of black muck, what is it we do to each other?’ She finds answers, too. Watch her work.”

—Justin Sherwood, author of Low Theory


“Nicole Cuffy’s impressionistic and highly poetic chapbook, Atlas of the Body, is as lyrical as it is stirring. I’m not sure what delighted me most: the amount of heartbreaking narrative she effectively gets into such a small space, or her rich, evocative prose. A stunning debut.”

—Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life


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 every summer. Further literary arts programming at Chautauqua includes summer-long interaction of published and aspiring writers at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, the intensive workshops of the nationally-recognized Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, and lectures by prominent authors on the art and craft of writing. 

The pre-eminent expression of lifelong learning in the United States, Chautauqua Institution comes alive each summer with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. Over the course of nine weeks, more than 100,000 people visit Chautauqua and participate in programs, classes and community events for all ages — all within the beautiful setting of a historic lakeside village. 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.


 

Praise for Atlas of the Body


“A poetic narrative of class, time, memory, and love, binding body to body, leaving its mark on the skin, and pulling us ever backward to our very first wounds.”

—Sarah Gerard, author of Sunshine State: Essays and Binary Star


“Nicole Cuffy’s Atlas of the Body invents a new form: short fiction with the scope and ambition of a novel comprising vignettes of lyrical prose. Form itself is at question here: the composition of the body, the person it does or does not contain, how much of it is lost in representation. A bildungsroman, the story follows Maya and her beloved Zaire as they roam their impoverished hometown in the American south wild and free, ‘where everything in the world is their mother,’ and continues through Maya’s adulthood, where she alone must confront the demands of personhood and privilege. All of this unfolds in passages that are alternately compressed and precise, meditative and expansive. Cuffy is an expert conjurer, drawing buried questions from ‘smudges on a cave wall’: ‘from the first shadow to stumble out of black muck, what is it we do to each other?’ She finds answers, too. Watch her work.”

—Justin Sherwood, author of Low Theory


“Nicole Cuffy’s impressionistic and highly poetic chapbook, Atlas of the Body, is as lyrical as it is stirring. I’m not sure what delighted me most: the amount of heartbreaking narrative she effectively gets into such a small space, or her rich, evocative prose. A stunning debut.”

—Helen Schulman, author of This Beautiful Life