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The Sophie Kerr Legacy

Sophie Kerr, a prolific and popular American writer of the early 20th century, has left an indelible literary mark at Washington College. The gift she bequeathed 50 years ago has enabled the College to bring to campus the nation’s top writers, editors and scholars and to support our unique community of student writers with grants, scholarships, and fantastic opportunities to experience the literary life of writing and publishing.

Edward Albee, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Karr, Lucille Clifton, James McBride, Eamon Grennan, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Pinsky, Claudia Rankine, and Jane Smiley are just a few of the literary heavyweights who have inspired and instructed the next generation of writers at Washington College.

In addition to bringing Visiting Scholars and Writers to our campus in Chestertown, the Sophie Kerr Gift provides annual scholarships for students who show literary promise, pays for library books, and supports student internships and research in the fields of literature, writing, and publishing with the Sophie Kerr Promise Grants. The result is a wonderfully vibrant intellectual culture where the literary arts thrive for our students on and off campus. For more information about upcoming events, refer to the Visiting Scholars and Writers events page.

The Sophie Kerr Prize is awarded each year to the graduating senior who has the best ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor. Valued at $63,000 in 2020, it is the nation’s largest literary prize awarded solely to undergraduate students. That's more than the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, combined. Learn more about 2020 Prize winner Mary Sprague in this interview with CBS news in Baltimore.

In the past, the prize has been awarded for both creative and critical writing alike. Student winners are chosen for their literary excellence, regardless of genre. See the list of past Sophie Kerr Prize winners here.

Graduating Washington College seniors can learn more about preparing and submitting a portfolio for the Sophie Kerr Prize by reading the Portfolio Guidelines.

To read more about the Sophie Kerr Legacy and its impact on Washington College through the years, see this feature from the Washington College Magazine. You can also read this 2017 special issue from the Washington College Magazine celebrating 50 years of Sophie.

2021 Sophie Kerr Winner (Delmarva Life)

2020 Sophie Kerr Winner (CBS News)

2017 Sophie Kerr Prize Event