Announcing the 2023 George Plimpton and Susannah Hunnewell Prize Winners


The Revel

Photograph of Harriet Clark by Joshua Conover; photograph of Ishion Hutchinson by Neil Watson.

We are delighted to announce that on April 4, at our Spring Revel, Harriet Clark will receive the George Plimpton Prize, and the inaugural Susannah Hunnewell Prize will be presented to Ishion Hutchinson. 

The George Plimpton Prize, awarded annually since 1993 by the editorial committee of our board of directors, recognizes an emerging writer of exceptional merit published in the Review during the preceding year. Previous recipients include Yiyun Li, Ottessa Moshfegh, Emma Cline, Isabella Hammad, Jonathan Escoffery, Eloghosa Osunde, and the 2022 winner, Chetna Maroo.

Harriet Clark’s slanting, beautiful story “Descent,” which appeared in our Summer 2022 issue (no. 240), is narrated by a young girl caught between her mother—imprisoned for her part in a botched robbery intended to finance revolutionary struggle—and her grandmother, whose grief encompasses a cruel resentment. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Clark is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and was a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford. She is at work on her first novel. The Review’s publisher, Mona Simpson, writes:

In “Descent,” Harriet Clark deftly tells an enclosing story about the wish for resurrection. An eight-year-old girl, “a great stayer,” knows departure as a fact of life. She and her grandfather simulate disappearance and recovery in a game they play with her in the trunk of the car. A silence is kept in honor of a felled deer. Strange cats attack the old man. Clark somehow manages to give us each character’s interiority: “if my mother told this story she might say that one day her father disappeared.” Clark ends where she began, with a conundrum, this time inflected with the grandmother’s harsh language: “To want to go home was to wish a man dead but I did want, very much, to go home.”

The Susannah Hunnewell Prize, which honors a writer for an outstanding piece of prose or poetry published by the Review in the previous calendar year, was established in 2023 in memory of Hunnewell, who joined the Review as an intern during George Plimpton’s tenure. She remained associated with the magazine for thirty years, serving as its Paris editor and later as its publisher from 2015 until her death in 2019. She also conducted some of the most beloved interviews in the Writers at Work series, including conversations with Harry Mathews, Kazuo Ishiguro, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and Emmanuel Carrère. 

The prize’s first winner, Ishion Hutchinson, published his essay “Women Sweeping”—a moving illumination of the artistry that infused his grandmother’s work and life, by way of Édouard Vuillard’s painting of his own mother sweeping—in our Spring 2022 issue (no. 239). Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Hutchinson is the author of two poetry collections, Far District and House of Lords and Commons, and a forthcoming collection of essays. He is the recipient of the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, a Windham-Campbell Prize for poetry, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. Mona Simpson writes:

She was the house, Henry James said of his mother. And so it was with Vuillard’s mother and Ishion Hutchinson’s grandmother, a “short and solid-built” baker. Sounds of “jubilation” hiss from the kitchen as the narrator witnesses the honor and pleasure of his grandmother making a home. “The interior does not simply belong to her, it is her,” Hutchinson writes of Vuillard’s mother. For a disenfranchised people, owning a house was, and still is, the ultimate achievement. By herself, Hutchinson’s grandmother earned what Mr. Biswas strived for in Naipaul’s novel: “legally owned property.” How? “Through baking.”

This question and answer form a refrain, as the narrator watches her measure flour and sugar with empty Betty and Carnation cans and eats the bits (“bun bun”Harr) left on the tin baking pans after black cake and coconut drops are removed to sell. There’s something quietly radical in Hutchinson’s association of his Jamaican grandmother with Madame Vuillard, and in his valorization of what is traditionally women’s work. The narrator was able to go to the good school on the island; Vuillard attended the same school as Marcel Proust. How? We are not told. But at the end of the essay, Hutchinson reveals his grandmother’s guarded secret, her vulnerability, her shame, and her wish, along with her pride.

Tickets are still available for the Revel, which will take place on April 4 at Cipriani 42nd Street. We hope you’ll join us to celebrate Clark and Hutchinson, as well as the inimitable Vivian Gornick, who will receive the Hadada, our award for lifetime achievement in literature. We’ll also be marking the seventieth anniversary of the Review, which was founded in Paris in 1953. Since then, the magazine has evolved the contemporary canon, publishing a spirited mix of emerging and established voices. That exhilarating encounter between different styles and generations also reliably makes the Revel an excellent party, and all proceeds help sustain the magazine. We’d love to see you there.