NEW YORK (AP) — Poet Tyree Daye will finally have some time to really write, and not think too much about money.
“I can take the summer off and pay down some debts,” Daye, from Youngsville, North Carolina, said Wednesday night after accepting his $50,000 Whiting Award, given annually by the Whiting Foundation to 10 emerging artists.
Established in 1985, the Whitings have been given to such future literary stars as Tony Kushner, Colson Whitehead and Lydia Davis. This year’s recipients are a mix of poets, playwrights and prose writers, some not yet published, some with a handful of works out. Winners besides Daye include poets Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Kayleb Rae Candrilli and nonfiction writers Terese Marie Mailhot and Nadia Owusu. Others honored were fiction writers Nafissa Thompson-Spires and Merritt Tierce and playwrights Lauren Yee and Michael R. Jackson, who said the Whiting would help him focus on the production of “A Strange Loop,” premiering in May at Playwrights Horizons in Times Square.
“It will also help me with rent and other little details,” Jackson said.
Wednesday night’s ceremony was held at the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan, with hundreds of writers, editors and other members of the publishing community. The keynote speaker was 2009 Whiting winner Adam Johnson, who later told The Associated Press that he had been out mountain climbing and, when he reached the top, had enough of a signal on his phone to receive an email notifying him of his prize. At the time, he was working on what became the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Orphan Master’s Son.” He and his wife were raising three small children.
“The Whiting helped me teach less and write more,” he said. “It helped me make connections and allowed me to finish the book.”
Program guides included excerpts of the winners’ work, and an introduction by a member of the class of 1989, “The Liars’ Club” memoirist Mary Karr. At the time she learned of the award, she was a working mother under such duress she often “woke up from screaming.” The Whiting was so unexpected that she initially hung up on the foundation, convinced it was a practical joke. When she got a second call, the same “patrician voice” was on the line.
“Send up a hurrah for the young writers facing the same blessing I faced,” she wrote. “They look young, but, I swear, each has come a far piece.”