Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature 2017 (and 2007)

Last evening I had the great pleasure of attending a beautiful event that was held at the Jewish Museum in New York. In the final installment of its “Unpacking the Book” series for this season, the Jewish Book Council presented the five finalists for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize in conversation with Rabbi David Wolpe. The program, which was free and open to the public, was followed by the announcement of who among the finalists had received a fellowship (accompanied by a $5,000 award), a Choice Award (including an $18,000 prize), and the main prize itself: $100,000. (It was also followed by refreshments.)

It turned out that the new fellows are: Paul Goldberg, for The Yid; Adam Ehrlich Sachs, for Inherited Disorders; and Rebecca Schiff, for The Bed Moved.

Daniel Torday received the Choice Award for The Last Flight of Poxl West.

And Idra Novey won the grand prize for Ways to Disappear.

There’s much that remains mysterious to me about the Sami Rohr Prize, which alternates each year between recognizing writers for fiction and nonfiction. There is no open nomination/submission process, and the extent to which the books that the prize recognizes reflect specifically “Jewish” literature is, at times, debatable (which is perhaps a Jewish characteristic).

But this much is clear: I love the annual prize events. This is not the first one I’ve had the great good fortune to attend. In fact, ten years ago, just a few months after I’d moved from the Boston area to Manhattan, I was present for the very first celebration—and it seems that I wrote about it for my blog! I knew far fewer people in the 2007 room than I greeted last night, but I was able to thank Mr. Rohr personally for what he was doing for Jewish literature and writers. (Mr. Rohr passed away in 2012, so that memory from 2007 remains quite special.)

A hearty Mazal Tov to all of this year’s finalists. And if you want to watch last evening’s discussion, there’s a video available on the Jewish Book Council’s Facebook page.