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Branches fund first Chautauqua Janus Prize to celebrate emerging authors

Twig and Barbara Branch sit for a portrait Friday, July 20, 2018 in their backyard garden on the grounds. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

When Barbara and Twig Branch travel to different countries around the world, their go-to method for learning about culture is by reading books popular in those countries.

“We often read a book, not only about the country where we’re going, but also a piece of literature from the country that people read there,” Barbara Branch said. “It gives us an added insight into travel.”

Barbara and Twig Branch have practiced this in Iran, Brazil and countries all over the world. Not only do they love to travel, but they also describe themselves and their family as avid readers. When the Branches decided to fund the first-ever Chautauqua Janus Prize for the 2018 season, they partly did so because of a common trait between traveling and reading: curiosity.

The Chautauqua Janus Prize is meant to celebrate an emerging author’s work of fiction or nonfiction. The prize is named after the Roman god, Janus, “who looks to both the past and the future,” according to the Institution’s website. Submitted pieces can be about any topic and must be shorter than 15,000 words.

This year, Nicole Cuffy was given the prize out of 16 finalists for her piece Atlas of the Body. She was awarded $2,500 and an all-expenses paid trip to the Institution during Week Five.

The Branches said they are always excited to read pieces that present new ideas.

“We’re curious about the world; we want to learn about the world,” Barbara Branch said. “We think, and we hope, that the Chautauqua community is also curious. We bill ourselves as lifelong learners, so I hope people will join us in experiencing these new authors.”

The couple is dedicated to lifelong learning and learning about things they have never been exposed to before.

“So this is one of the reasons we like (the Janus Prize),” Twig Branch said. “… We really like novel, new and different.”

Both Chautauquans have had an interest in reading since a young age. Barbara Branch was the oldest child in her family, and said she used to “escape into books.”

“Every Saturday I would walk to the library in Pittsburgh and get as many books as they allowed,” Barbara Branch said. “I would lug them home and the next Saturday bring them back.”

This process repeated as she would read shelf after shelf of different authors.

While Barbara Branch first came to the Institution until the 1980s, Twig Branch has been coming his whole life. As a child, his parents made him go to the symphonies with them, but allowed him to bring a book.

“A lot of my interest in reading has come from Chautauqua,” Twig Branch said. “My interest in lifelong learning has come from Chautauqua.”

The couple has funded the Janus Prize for the next five years, hoping it will “gain more traction” under the leadership of Atom Atkinson, director of literary arts. They not only hope it will “give a boost to a new (and) striving author,” but will also “stretch us here at Chautauqua.”

“This is yoga for the brain,” Twig Branch said. “That’s a good way to describe Chautauqua: yoga for the brain.”

Tags : Atlas of the BodyBarbara BranchChautauqua Janus PrizeNicole CuffyTwig Branch
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The author Matthew Steinberg

Matthew Steinberg is a rising junior at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, studying communication arts, journalism and Spanish studies. He will be reporting for the development section of The Chautauquan Daily, but during his free time, he may be longboarding down NY 394, spending hard-earned money at TJ Maxx or even rewatching every film in the Marvel Universe. Feel free to chat with him sometime.