Now entering its 30th year, the Whiting Awards, courtesy of the Whiting Foundation, are based on the belief that — to quote Lou Reed — "what comes is better than what came before."
The awards, which give $50,000 to 10 writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama, is based on "early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come." Of course, when you hear such talk, you inevitably and quite logically think of "emerging artists," who more often than not, tend to be young.
That's not how the Whiting Awards roll. "We hope to identify exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture," says the Foundation's press release. "Though the writers may not necessarily be young (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."
Inspiration isn't just a young man's game, which calls to mind this recent New York Times article, titled "Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind." "Conventional wisdom holds that if you do not write your Farewell to Arms, paint your 'Starry Night,' start the next Twitter or climb Mount Everest by young adulthood, or at least middle age, then chances are you will never do it," the article posits, before promptly demolishing this outdated hypothesis.
The piece profiles Lucille Gang Shulklapper, who dreamed of becoming a writer before life intervened (marriage, a professional career, kids, etc.). She retired in her late 50s, published her first book of poetry in 1996, and now finds herself enjoying a fruitful literary career. She's 80 years old.
Shulklapper's story isn't unique. As baby boomers retire, they're dusting off those oft-delayed literary pursuits, and the Whiting Awards, which recognizes that emerging artists can be well into their sixth decades, can provide a much-needed financial boost. (This late-blooming-baby-booming philosophy also underscores other programs we've seen recently, like J-Lab's new Masters Mediapreneurs Initiative, which awards grants of $12,000 that seek to help tap the passion, experience, and ingenuity of seasoned journalists between 50 and 64.)
Winners of the Whiting Awards include playwrights Anne Washburn and Lucas Hnath; poets Anthony Carelli, Aracelis Girmay, Jenny Johnson, and Roger Reeves; fiction writers Leopoldine Core, Dan Josefson, and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi; and nonfiction writer Elena Passarello.