Five For the Prize!

  • The finalists for the 2017 Sophie Kerr Prize are (L to R) James P. Mitchell, Lilllian Starr, Catalina Righter, Allison Bil...
    The finalists for the 2017 Sophie Kerr Prize are (L to R) James P. Mitchell, Lilllian Starr, Catalina Righter, Allison Billmire, and Ryan Manning.
May 15, 2017
Five Washington College seniors, representing fields of study from political science to chemistry to English, have been selected as finalists for the 2017 Sophie Kerr Prize. The winner of the $65,768 prize will be announced on Friday.

Five Washington College seniors today were named finalists for the 2017 Sophie Kerr Prize, the nation’s largest undergraduate literary award which, now in its 50th anniversary year, is worth $65,768. All five will read from their work at an event this Friday, where poet Elizabeth Spires will announce the winner.

The finalists’ reading and the announcement of the winner begins at 7 p.m. in Hotchkiss Recital Hall in the Gibson Center for the Arts and is free and open to the public. It will also be live streamed here: .

Reflecting the multidisciplinary nature of a Washington College education, the finalists are majors in English, chemistry, American studies, and political science, as well as several who minored in creative writing. They represent honors societies and organizations including Phi Beta Kappa and the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, and several work in a variety of College publications including the student newspaper, The Elm, and the student review, The Collegian.

“It is always such a joy reading these portfolios. They reflect the literary ethos and emphasis we place on writing that is the heart and soul of this College,” says Professor Kathryn Moncrief, Chair of the English department and Sophie Kerr Curator. “These students and their outstanding work show their diverse interests and approaches, as well as their shared passion for the written word.”

The work submitted for the prize ranges across genre and topic, encompassing essay, poetry, non-fiction, journalism, and print projects. “The finalists address politics, loss, travel, history, and social issues including affirmative action and racism. And they do so with burnished lyricism, surprising use of form, and a mature sense of urgency,” says James Hall, Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House.

The finalists are:

Allison Billmire, an English major with a creative writing minor from Cecil County, Maryland, who served as an officer for Sigma Tau Delta and editor for The Collegian, The Elm, the Washington College Writing Center, and others. Billmire’s portfolio includes work that focuses on running, travel, and other forms of movements in her poetry, prose, and printed projects. After graduation, she hopes to find an editorial position, and adopt an old, fat cat named Falstaff.

Ryan Manning, an English and chemistry double major and creative writing minor who served variously as president of the Writer’s Union and WIGS (the campus gaming club), is a longtime intern to the Rose O’Neill Literary House, and sometime project manager for the Pegasus (the campus’ online yearbook). He is a member of the Cater Society of Junior Fellows and Phi Beta Kappa. His portfolio includes poetry, essays, and fiction fragments that interrogate and unfold intensely private, emotional moments, examining the intersection of feeling and rhetoric. He lives in the Chestertown area with his mother and younger brother, and is pursuing a career in editing and publications design.

James P. Mitchell, who is a 21-year-old American Studies major and political science minor from Lititz, Pennsylvania, has led the chapters of the College Republicans and Alexander Hamilton Society, served on the College Honor Board, and worked in the Writing Center and Office of Academic Skills. He is a member of the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Omicron Delta Kappa, Pi Sigma Alpha, Phi Alpha Theta, and Pi Lambda Theta. He has worked closely with the Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture as a student fellow. During his junior year, Mitchell was named the Frederick Douglass Student Fellow by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. During the summer of 2016, he was recognized by the American Enterprise Institute as a student in the Summer Honors Program. His portfolio includes pieces that draw from political science and history and reflect the demands of a plural society and how to encourage its resulting diversity. A student dedicated to liberal education, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 2017, and this fall he will continue his education as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. 

Catalina Righter, who is an English major and creative writing minor from Manchester, Maryland, submitted a portfolio composed of her journalistic work, personal essay, and poetry. She served as editor-in-chief of The Elm and a poetry screener for Cherry Tree, and she valued her membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Cater Society of Junior Fellows.

Lillian Starr is an English major from Cecil County, Maryland. During her time at Washington College she served as editor-in-chief of the school’s student-run literary magazine The Collegian. Her portfolio includes poems written over the past two years, centering around intimacy. After graduation, Starr intends to pursue an MFA in poetry at Florida International University in Miami. 

About the Sophie Kerr Prize and Legacy

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. Learn more at .


Last modified on May. 15th, 2017 at 2:50pm by Marcia Landskroener.