And the 2014 Sophie Kerr Finalists Are …
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Washington College has announced the 2014 finalists for its prestigious Sophie Kerr Prize, which each year recognizes a graduating senior for literary ability and promise. This year, the winner of the largest undergraduate literary prize in the nation will receive a check for $61,382.
Members of the English Department faculty, who make up the Sophie Kerr Committee, read through 32 portfolios submitted by members of the Class of 2014 before choosing these finalists:
Grace Arenas is a native of Baldwin, Md., and a graduate of Dulaney High School in Timonium, Md. A double major in English and French, she was lifestyle editor for the campus newspaper, The Elm, and a peer tutor in the Writing Center. She is a member of both the French and English national honor societies and spent a semester abroad in France. The jury praised her portfolio for its playful and forceful poetry and the crisp language of her essays. “Her imagery is especially strong, and she writes well in both expository and poetic forms,” one juror noted.
Chestertown native and Gunston Day School graduate Peter Fortenbaugh majors in Hispanic Studies and minors in Creative Writing. He has studied abroad in Ecuador and Argentina and has spent summers and off-campus hours working for Chestertown-based furniture artist Vicco Von Voss, a Washington College alumnus. Fortenbaugh’s portfolio consists of short stories centered on the fictional town of Johnsontown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The jurors praised the way he inhabits his characters and gives them voice. “He is able to get into the head of these characters in ways that move beyond a simple projection of himself,” jurors wrote. “His creation of this fictional world shows maturity and a powerful vision, and his convincing portrayals of characters that span five generations lack the clichés that can be typical of younger writers.”
Alexander Stinton is an English major and creative writing minor from Wittman, Md. A graduate of St. Michael’s High School, he came to Washington College with a Sophie Kerr Scholarship and an invitation to join the Presidential Fellows and was later inducted into the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta. He submitted poetry and critical essays, including an excerpt from his senior thesis on “The Eternal in the Poetry of W.B. Yeats.” “Both his poetry and his essays were strong,” the jury wrote. “His knowledge of classical works informed his own poetry, which is very polished. Many of the poems invoke a strong sense of place, most often the Eastern Shore.”
Kimberly Uslin, an English major with a minor in Creative Writing, is a native of New Oxford, Pa., and a graduate of Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown. At Washington College, she is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, and Sigma Tau Delta English honorary society. She worked as a copy editor of the student newspaper and as a writer in the Media Relations office. Her portfolio includes poetry, journalism, creative nonfiction, short fiction, and an excerpt from her senior thesis on J.D. Salinger. The jury described her prose as “vibrant and quick moving,” adding, “she has command over what she writes and a sure and clear sense of voice and purpose. She also has an innate sense of form and the ability to work with both form and content. ”
Kay Wicker, a graduate of Oakland Mills High School in her native Columbia, Md., is an English major with minors in Creative Writing and Art History. She has worked at the campus newspaper, The Elm, during all four of her years at Washington College and served as editor-in-chief during her senior year. She submitted fiction and creative nonfiction including blog posts, a short story, and a set of prose poems. Jurors praised the strong voice in her writing and her willingness to experiment, “which makes her work unpredictable and unique. Her work is sophisticated and bold. We saw her exhibit energy, courage, and professionalism as editor of the Elm,” they added, “and those same attributes came through in her portfolio.”
The ultimate winner will be named Tuesday evening, May 13, during a special event in Baltimore, at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral Street. Beginning at 7:30 p.m., this free, public event will include remarks by acclaimed poet Mary Jo Salter, author of seven collections of poetry and co-chair of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.
Each finalist will read selections from his or her writing, and then watch as Salter returns to the podium, opens a sealed envelope, and announces the winner’s name. For those unable to attend, the entire event will be streamed through the Washington College website (www.washcoll.edu).
As stipulated by Kerr’s will, the Prize check itself will be awarded in Chestertown on Saturday, May 17, as part of Washington College’s 231st Commencement.
Washington College benefactor Sophie Kerr grew up in Denton, Md., and spent most of her adult life in New York, where she built a successful career as a fiction writer and national magazine editor. At her death in 1965, she bequeathed much of her estate to Washington College with the stipulation that half its income would be awarded annually to the senior showing “the most ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor.”
The other half of the endowment brings a steady stream of notable writers, authors, and editors to campus for readings and workshops, provides scholarships for students who show literary promise, pays for library books, and supports various other literary activities. Visiting luminaries have included Edward Albee, Jonathan Franzen, Allen Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snickett), Colum McCann, Junot Díaz, and Natasha Tretheway.