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Alumna’s Innovative Memoir Wins Chautauqua Prize

Alumna Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body is the 2018 winner of the Chautauqua Prize, an annual award that honors a significant contribution to literature.

Marzano-Lesnevich, MFA ’09, will receive $7,500 and a weeklong summer residency at Chautauqua Institute in August.

She said that the fact that the award “comes from an institution with such a long history of creating space for rigorous, rewarding interdisciplinary and cross-genre dialogue makes it particularly meaningful at this moment in our national history, with our urgent need for socially engaged art.”

Read: Alumna's Book Part Memoir, Part Murder Mystery, Wholly Complex

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir (Flatiron Books, 2017) follows Marzano-Lesnevich as a young law student who investigates her own past as she delves into the past of a convicted child murderer. It was named one of the best books of the year by a number of publications, including The Guardian, The Times of London, Entertainment Weekly, and Bustle. It was long-listed for the Gordon Burn Prize and was a finalist for a New England Book Award, a Goodreads Choice Award, and a Lambda Literary Award.

David A. Griffith, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education at Chautauqua, said The Fact of a Body contains the “eloquence and epic sweep of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, as well as the empathy and challenge to the death penalty of Sister Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking.

“In the end, though,” Griffith said, “comparisons to other works of literature fall short because of Marzano-Lesnevich’s singular willingness to examine her own conscience, and the ways that her own traumas shape her.”

Marzano-Lesnevich is a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts fellow, winner of a Rona Jaffe Award, and two-time fellow at both MacDowell and Yaddo writers’ colonies. Her essays appear in The New York Times, Oxford American, and a number of anthologies.

In addition to her Emerson degree, she has a BA from Columbia University and a JD from Harvard University, and she teaches at Grub Street and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. This fall, she will join the English Department at Bowdoin College as an assistant professor of creative nonfiction.





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