Sophie Kerr Prize Set for May 19
Elizabeth Spires, award-winning poet and children’s author, will give the keynote at this year’s Sophie Kerr Prize on May 19 and present the winner of the nation’s largest undergraduate literary award, now in its 50th year. The finalists will read from their work starting at 7 p.m. at Hotchkiss Recital Hall in the Gibson Center for the Arts, and Spires will announce the winner of the prize, this year worth $65,768.
This will be a homecoming of sorts for Spires, now co-director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College, who landed her first teaching position in 1981 at Washington College as a 28-year-old whose first book was about to be published.
“The readings I organized that spring featured Mark Strand, Frank Bidart, and John Ashbery,” she says. “At times, it felt like everyone was living and breathing poetry, and the writing students I taught are still vivid in my mind.” As one of the judges for that year’s Sophie Kerr Prize, Spires says the students’ manuscripts were finely honed and serious in purpose. “That, too, is a result of the teaching and atmosphere at the college. And, of course, the Sophie Kerr Prize itself is a great motivator. It exists because Sophie Kerr believed young writers deserved be taken seriously. And they certainly are at Washington College.”
Spires is the author of six collections of poetry: Globe, Swan’s Island, Annonciade, Worldling, Now the Green Blade Rises, and The Wave-Maker. A new collection, A Memory of the Future, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton next year. She has been the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholarship, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The Atlantic, American Poetry Review, and have been featured on National Public Radio’s “The Writer’s Almanac.”
A professor of English at Goucher College, Spires has also written six books for children, including The Mouse of Amherst, I Am Arachne, and I Heard God Talking to Me: William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings.
Eastern Shore native Sophie Kerr published 23 novels, hundreds of short stories, and even a cookbook. When she died at 85 years old, she bequeathed the College a half-million-dollar trust fund, requiring that half of the earnings annually go to a graduating senior who shows the most promise for future literary endeavor. The other half funds student scholarships, visiting writers and scholars, and library books. Through this remarkable gift, Washington College has been able to host some of the nation’s most gifted writers, as well as provide its students with extraordinary opportunities to explore their creative potential in writing and literature.