The Christopher Doheny Award
The Doheny Award

Winners of the Christopher Doheny Award


2017 Winner: 

Sharon Solwitz


Sharon Solwitz’s novel Once in Lourdes (Spiegel and Grau) 2017, called by Booklist “timely and timeless,” was recently awarded the prize for best adult fiction from the Society of Midland Authors. She has published a novel Bloody Mary and a collection of stories Blood and Milk (Sarabande), the latter of which won the Carl Sandburg Prize from Friends of the Chicago Public Library, the prize for adult fiction from the Society of Midland Authors, and was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Her individual stories have appeared in magazines including the New England Review, TriQuarterly, Mademoiselle, and Ploughshares. Awards include the Pushcart Prize, the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, the Nelson Algren Prize, and grants and fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council. Her stories and essays can be found numerous anthologies and creative writing textbooks, and in Best American Short Stories 2012 and 2016. A professor of English at Purdue University, she teaches fiction writing to undergraduates and in the MFA program. She lives in Chicago with her husband, the poet Barry Silesky.

Sharon Solwitz on her winning manuscript, Abra Cadabra:

Barry and I had twins late in life, and fourteen years later, on Jan 31, 2001, we lost one of them to cancer. I’m a writer and teacher of writing, and after that I couldn’t write anything. Two or three years I managed a stuttering essay about it, “Abra Cadabra.” Then came a spate of stories about a fictional—it had to be fictional—family, like ours but not ours, who have a son who gets cancer. Those are the stories that became the novel in stories Abra Cadabra, about a fictional family, the Leib-Feinsteins. The point of view roams from mother to father to each of the boys (no longer twins in the fiction) to a sister, a nurse, a friend of the family, a rabbi. The trajectory of the whole is the rise and fall and rise or fall of different characters at different points on the continuum that is the family’s response to the boy’s illness. Each story, however, has its own trajectory, and can be read with satisfaction apart from the whole. How can you live after such a loss? How can you live happily or if not happily, then beautifully? That’s what the book asks, ultimately, and what I still want to know.



photo by Daria Bishop

2016 Winner: Lee Ann Cox


Lee Ann Cox is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Salon, The Rumpus, Vermont Quarterly, The New York Times, and Food Arts. Previously, she served as executive editor at and as a senior editor at Eating Well. In 2014, she received a Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Her current work explores the impact of traumatic illness and grief on a marriage. She lives with her family in Charlotte, Vermont.


About Lee Ann Cox's winning manuscript, Beauty Like That: A memoir from the far edge of loss:


In the weeks following my husband Kevin’s death at 38 from a rare sarcoma, I spent my nights searching through his computer, rereading his blog, pulling love letters out of old books—rebuilding my understanding of our marriage in hopes of finding a path forward as a woman and as a parent. What I discovered became the basis for the book, an unflinching look at the trauma cancer inflicts on a young family.


Because we were both writers who had connected through words from the budding of our relationship, the narrative is animated by a seamless weaving of voices, using private writings and also public accounts of the experience—Kevin’s through thoughtful, starkly observed, often funny blog posts, mine through raw tweets that capture the terror or absurdity of a moment. This memoir keeps that conversation going, taking the reader into the deeply sensual life of the couple, even as it begins to unravel.


There are no neat endings here, and I haven’t written my way out of grief or guilt. I can only say that I’ve told a story about what it looks like to be human in the face of love and loss, our surest companions.



2015 Winner: Catherine Kapphahn

The winner of the third annual $10,000 Christopher Doheny Award is Catherine Kapphahn, for her manuscript Stories You Never Told Me, an innovative blend of memoir and fiction about, in the author’s own words, “a daughter who gives a voice to her mother’s unspoken history, and in the process, heals them both.”  

Catherine Kapphahn was selected by a panel of three distinguished writers: Charles Bock, Mike Scalise, the previous winner of the Christopher Doheny Award, and Michelle Bailat-Jones, the inaugural prize winner, as well as two representatives from


Catherine Kapphahn’s writing has appeared in The Prague RevueAstoria Magazine, the Feminist Press Anthology This is the Way We Say GoodbyeWanderlust ReviewArs Medica: a Journal of Medicine, the Arts and Humanity, CURE Magazine and Sunday Salon. She is the recipient of a 2011 Individual Artist Grant from the Queens Council on the Arts. She earned an M.F.A in writing at Columbia University and a B.A. from Hunter College. Catherine teaches at the City University of New York at Lehman College in the Bronx, where her students’ brave stories continue to inspire her. As a yoga teacher, she values the community of a class and enjoys helping students play energetically with the shapes and lines of the poses. Her dance background allows her to see yoga as an art form, a place to experience movement, rediscover play and lift the spirit. She grew up in Colorado and now lives in Astoria, Queens with her husband and two sons.

2014 Winner: Mike Scalise


The winner of the second annual $10,000 Christopher Doheny Award is Mike Scalise, for his memoir The Brand New Catastrophe. Mr. Scalise was selected by a panel of five judges: Elliott Holt, Rene Steinke, and the previous winner Michelle Bailat-Jones, along with two representatives from

Mike Scalise’s work has appeared in AgniIndiewireNinth LetterThe Paris ReviewWall Street Journal, and more. He’s an 826DC advisory board member, has received fellowships and scholarships from Bread Loaf, Yaddo & the Ucross Foundation. He was the Philip Roth Writer in Residence at Bucknell University.


Mike Scalise's manuscript was published by Sarabande Books in 2017. Sarabande Books is a non-profit literary press founded in 1994 by Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner and is based in Louisville, Kentucky. Sarabande publishes ten to twelve books each year and its authors have been awarded and shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the LA Times Book Prize, and several PEN/American honors, among many others.


2013 Winner: 

Michelle Bailat-Jones

Michelle Bailat-Jones received the first Christopher Doheny award in 2013 for her novel Fog Island Mountains. Michelle visited The Center in November 2014 to give a reading from her winning work. Please click to view video of the event. 


Michelle Bailat-Jones is a writer and translator. Her short fiction, translations and criticism have appeared in various journals including The Kenyon Review, Cerise Press, Two Serious Ladies, Sundog Lit, Spolia, Hayden’s Ferry Review, PANK (online), The Rumpus and The Quarterly Conversation. She is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Elemental: Variations (Spolia, 2014) and her translation of Beauty on Earth (La Beauté sur la Terre) by Swiss author Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878 – 1949) was published by Onesuch Press in 2013. She also works as the Reviews Editor for Necessary Fiction.


Fog Island Mountains was published by Tantor Media, Inc. in 2014.



The Christopher Doheny Award


The Christopher Doheny Award, supported by Audible, Inc. and the friends and family of Christopher Doheny, recognizes excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious physical illness by a writer who has personally dealt or is dealing with life-threatening illness, either his or her own or that of a close relative or friend.