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Who Is Eligible for a Whiting Award?
The Whiting Writers’ Awards are intended for emerging writers. We hope to identify exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture. Though the writers may not necessarily be young (given that talent may emerge at any age), the grant ideally offers recipients a first opportunity to devote themselves fully to writing, and the recognition has a significant impact.
Typically, a Whiting Award winner has published one book, although some of the Whiting recipients in the past have published more, and some have not yet published in book form. Writers who have a considerable body of published work or whose work has already received substantial attention are not eligible for consideration. In the earliest years of the program, a few senior writers were also recognized, but the Foundation now focuses entirely on writers in early career. The award is not intended to rectify critical neglect of an established writer.
The award is highly competitive. Up to ten awards will be made from approximately 90 to 100 nominations.
Who Are the Nominators?
Nominators are literary professionals across the country representing all literary genres who are likely to know about emerging writers at the beginning of promising careers. The majority are writers, often teachers as well, and the list has included editors, agents, critics, bookstore owners, reading series organizers, dramaturgs, and artistic directors of theaters.
Nominators are contacted by the foundation and are each asked to nominate one emerging writer of exceptional talent and promise. The roster of nominators changes annually, although some nominators have served more than once.
Who is on the Selection Committee and How Do They Work?
Each year the Director of the Writers’ Program appoints six or seven writers of distinction and accomplishment in fiction, poetry, non-fiction and the theater. Occasionally, the selection committee includes literary editors and dramaturgs.
The selection committee meets four times over the course of the year. One of their first jobs is to suggest new nominators. Once the nominations come in, the selectors read the work of those 90 to 100 writers and meet three more times to winnow the list down to their final 10 recommendations. The criteria used by the selectors are always first and foremost the quality of the work they have read and the promise that it shows of exceptional work to come. All selectors, no matter what their particular field, read the work of all nominees. The nominations are not pre-screened and only the selectors can vote on who will get an award. Their recommendations are presented to the Board of Trustees for ratification.
Why Do the Selectors and Nominators Serve Anonymously?
We promise anonymity to our nominators and selectors so they will not be subject to pressure. This anonymity also allows the selectors to speak candidly about the writers under consideration. We also ask our nominators not to reveal to their candidates that they are under consideration for an award to avoid raising their hopes. Only about one in ten writers nominated is chosen for an award.
How Do the Selectors Decide Who Is Emerging?
The selectors rely on their own expertise and experience to assess a candidate’s work and résumé and make a judgment about where a writer is in his or her career. A general definition of emerging for a poet will differ from that for a fiction writer or a playwright, and any general definition in a particular genre will not suffice for everyone. Therefore, that question is grappled with on a candidate-by-candidate basis with no rigid yardstick, especially with regards to age.
Keep in mind that an emerging writer is not the same as an under-recognized one. A writer may have published several books over a number of years and received little critical attention for the work, and one might feel that that writer has yet to emerge fully. Despite the lack of recognition, however, that writer is in mid-career, and is therefore too far along for a Whiting Award.
On the List of Past Whiting Recipients Are Some Older, Well-Known Writers. Why Doesn’t the Foundation Still Give Awards to These Kinds of Writers?
The Writers’ Program has evolved over time. Today the Writers’ Awards are only given to emerging writers.
What Are the “Grants-In-Aid” Given by the Foundation?
The grants-in-aid were small one-time grants of $10,000 given at the discretion of the Director of the Writers’ Program to writers of merit who had passed through a validation process involving several stages. Sometimes the Director learned of these writers through informal channels and a compelling case was made for them; some were in urgent circumstances which called for an immediate response; some were suggested by members of the selection committee of the Writers’ Awards. When these writers came to the attention of the Director, she sought written references on their behalf. If the references were uniformly positive, she submitted them, a résumé, and examples of the writers’ work to the Board of Trustees for discussion and approval. A grant-in-aid does not mean that a writer cannot later receive a Whiting Writer’s Award.
These grants are made infrequently. None are budgeted for this year.
Can I Apply for Any of the Whiting Grants or Awards?
No. If the Foundation accepted applications it would need a much larger staff. The Trustees decided when the program was created in 1985 to maximize the amount of money available for grants by keeping administrative overhead low.
How amazing that the most advanced capitalist society on earth should have so many of its children turning towards an art form that is bound to make them overworked and underpaid. Have they intuited that poetry can put them in contact with some necessary mystery, or value, or sense of reality, that this narcotizing culture has increasingly deprived them of?
Whiting Writers’ Award Winner 1985