Mike Scalise's memoir The Brand New Catastrophe has won this year's Christopher Doheny Prize, which recognizes excellence in writing about serious illness. The prize was created by Audible in honor of Chris Doheny, an employee at Audible who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis in 2013.
Our thanks to Diana Dapito, a Senior Director at Audible, for the following remembrance of Chris Doheny.
Chris Doheny – one of my closest friends and favorite colleagues – passed away in 2013 due to complications from cystic fibrosis. Unless you were part of his close inner circle (and even then the topic didn’t come up often), Chris didn’t talk much about his illness; about how difficult it was for him to breathe sometimes, and how a double-lung transplant, the last resort for treatment which Chris received in 2010, would still only potentially give him a few more years.
Instead, Chris liked to talk about books. (And music. And good coffee. And soccer. But a lot about books.) In our work together at Audible, Chris championed his favorites--Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Pastoralia by George Saunders, and Tinkers by Paul Harding…long before it won the Pulitzer. The first book he ever recommended to me, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, is still one of my favorites, and my children love Jon Klassen’s darkly funny I Want My Hat Back, a gift from ‘Uncle Chris’ that perfectly reflected his wicked sense of humor. Chris’s discerning taste and deep love of literature was prevalent in all facets of his life – he even named his pet rabbit Vonnegut. Towards the end, he was almost done writing his own novel, and it was at his request that his vast collection of books was given away at his funeral – the best way for a book lover to leave a piece of himself with his friends.
And when we knew that the end was coming, Audible’s publisher, Beth Anderson – the woman who hired both me and Chris and had been our mentor since 2004 – worked with Chris to figure out the best way we could honor him. And so The Christopher Doheny Award was established with The Center for Fiction to recognize excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious physical illness. The author has to have personal experience dealing with life-threatening illness, either his or her own or that of a close relative or friend. Because even though Chris didn’t let CF define him, he thought it important that more books address the toll that serious illness can take.
I’m honored to serve as one of the judges for the Doheny Award each year – despite the pressure of living up to Chris’s high literary standards! – and am proud to share that the latest winner is now available: The Brand New Catastrophe by Mike Scalise. In his frank and funny memoir, Mike wrestles with how we define ourselves by the stories we choose to tell. It just so happens that part of Mike’s story is about a brain tumor…that burst in his head. Chris would have loved Mike’s take on living a meaningful life without letting illness become the fully story; he also would have loved having his namesake prize share front cover billing with one of his favorite authors, Dave Eggers, who had this to say about The Brand New Catastrophe: "A very funny book about the frailties of the flesh, the absurdities of modern medicine, and how to stay sane amid it all. Scalise's voice is fantastically entertaining, unfailingly honest."
About Christopher Doheny
Chris Doheny joined Audible, Inc. while in college as a summer intern in 2002 just a few years after the company was founded. After graduating from Georgetown University in 2003, where he took a Beowulf class that came up in conversation more often than one would expect, he returned to Audible and spent the next eight years helping to build the company. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was just a baby, Chris strived to live as normal a life as possible. Chris received a double lung transplant in June 2010. He passed away on February 20, 2013.
Read more about the Christopher Doheny Prize.