Julie Schumacher is First Woman to Win Thurber Prize for American Humor

Posted on October 1, 2015

Julie Schumacher photo

Julie Schumacher has won the 2015 Thurber Prize for American Humor for her novel, Dear Committee Members. She is the first woman ever to win the prize. She was awarded the prize, along with a check for $5,000 at a ceremony in New York City. The other two finalists were also women: Roz Chast for Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Annabelle Gurwitch for I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge.

In a talk Ms. Schumaker gave at The Strand bookstore she read portions of the novel and also discussed the novel and her inspiration for it. She says it all came about because of her creative writing students. She explains, "It was sort of a facetious weird idea. I was talking to a group of undergrads about writing a short story not in a traditional form. A student asked me, 'what would you?' and I jokingly replied I'd write it in the form letters of recommendation, because I'm always writing them for you guys."

She says she has to write between 75 - 100 letters of recommendation a year and it's exhausting. When a colleague said she really needed to write the novel, she did. She made the protagonist a professor who is a total narcissist. She says, "He has to be a total egotist and a jerk for it two work." Professor Jason T. Fitger is definitely a jerk, But he's also a brilliant writer who uses these LORs (as he calls them) as a way to vent his frustrations.

His career in the English Department at Payne University is not going well: he hasn't published a book in years and the economics department gets all the funds. Students ambush him everywhere -- even outside the restroom -- to beg for an LOR. So he writes them -- but they aren't like any LOR you might recognize. They are absurd, off-topic, and absolutely hilarious.

Ms. Schumaker says she writes by hand in a composition notebook. She writes the story on the right hand page. The left hand page is for comments, edits and changes. She tries to write at least two pages a day. She also talks about her first time writing in such a structured style. Take a look:

Photo: Julie Schumacher