Grateful Krivak accepts first-ever Chautauqua Prize for ‘The Sojourn’

Andrew Krivak, author of Chautauqua Prize-winning The Sojourn, gives his acceptance speech Sunday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. Photo by Adam Birkan.

Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript of Andrew Krivak’s address Sunday evening in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

This is truly an exceptional award. I’m so grateful. Edith Pearlman, the short story writer, says to writers, “Take the time to be brief.” I think I just want to take the time to say thank you. Thank you to Tom Becker and the entire board. Thank you to Sherra Babcock and Teresa Adams, Kristine Newman. The good folks at the Literary Arts Center. … All this generosity made this first-ever Chautauqua Prize possible.

I’m grateful for all of you tonight, for bringing me and my family to this beautiful place, and for presenting me with this award for my novel, The Sojourn. … One of the great things about being a writer is working alone in a room with words. One of the other great things, too, is when a place and its people — a place like this — know words and love words, draw you out of that room and say, “You’re not alone in your work. We understand and appreciate your words.” Again, thank you for this.

The genesis of The Sojourn is based on the stories that I heard about the old country from my grandmother, who grew up there. It all translated through my mother’s own literary lens, in order to give me a better sense of the pain and joy of my grandmother’s experience at a time and in a world long-forgotten to us, but certainly told so that in some ways, those times weren’t forgotten, to my brother and me, sitting around a table in Pennsylvania.

And although my mother passed away three months ago, she did see this novel realized. So I want to thank her, too, for the love of words and story that she instilled in me. She’s the Irene of the dedication, which in the old Greek of the church means “peace.”

I should also tell you that The Sojourn almost never became, not because I couldn’t write it, but because no one wanted to publish it. So for all you writers out there wondering when enough is enough, I will tell you that 34 different houses turned down The Sojourn before Erika Goldman answered her phone at Bellevue Literary Press and we had a talk and, she said, “Why don’t you send me your book?”

Erika published my novel simply because she loved it, which is pretty rare in the publishing industry. And for that, I am grateful to her and to her tiny staff at Bellevue Literary Press. I am not the only writer, of course, that she has saved, and because of that, I hope that she and the Bellevue Literary Press will be around for a long time to come.

Finally, I want to thank my wife, Amelia. Today is our 12th anniversary. And here we are together to celebrate properly, just as I said we would. So you know, I was at a professional and personal crossroads, wondering what I should do. And it was Amelia who said to me, “I want you to write.” And so she’s really why I do what I do. So thank you, I love you.

But thank you all, all of you here, and thank you for reading — just for reading, regardless of what book you’re working on or what book you plan to take up tomorrow, or in the fall or around Christmas. Enjoy your summers at Chautauqua. This is truly an amazing place, and with that, I just ask that you all pray for peace. Thank you.

—Transcribed by Sydney Maltese

Update: This story corrects a mistake in the print edition, a misattribution of Edith Pearlman’s quote.