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Sophie Kerr Prize

The Largest Undergraduate Literary Prize in the United States

THE SOPHIE KERR PRIZE  is named after an Eastern Shore author who made her fortune in New York writing women’s fiction during the 1930s and 1940s. The endowment she established in her will has inspired and supported  our national reputation for programs and events in literature and writing.  For more than 50 years Sophie Kerr has brought to campus many of the nation’s top writers, editors, and scholars. Edward Albee, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, James McBride, Eamon Grennan, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Pinksy, Charles Simic, 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 an impressive gathering of Visiting Scholars and Writers brought to campus each year, the Sophie Kerr Gift provides scholarships for students who show literary promise and grants in support of student internships in a range of literary, editing, and publishing fields. The result is a vibrant intellectual culture where the literary arts thrive.

In accordance with the terms of her will, half of the annual income from her bequest to the College is awarded each year to the graduating senior demonstrating the best potential for future achievement in a literary endeavor. Valued at more than $65,000 in 2021, it remains the nation’s largest undergraduate writing prize, more than the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award combined. See the list of Sophie Kerr Prize winners since its inception in 1968.

Although we have a very strong and popular Creative Writing Minor and a minor in Journalism, Editing & Publishing that prepare students for the level of achievement expected for the Sophie Kerr Prize, the prize is not restricted to a creative writing genre or an English major. Past winners and finalists of the Prize have typically submitted work in the Sophie Kerr Portfolio that includes the full range of writing that students pursue at Washington College, including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, screenplays and drama, journalism, editing, scholarly criticism and research in all disciplines, and even song lyrics.

Sophie Kerr Prize in the News