Six Chosen as 2021 Sophie Kerr Finalists
Six Washington College seniors today were selected as finalists for the Sophie Kerr Prize in literature, worth $65,580 this year. The winner of the nation’s largest undergraduate literary prize will be announced this Friday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m.
The event, held in person for the finalists on Martha Washington Square, will be hosted by Jim Dissette ’71, a local writer and book artist who won the Sophie Kerr Prize 50 years ago. Viewers can watch the livestreamed event from the YouTube link https://youtu.be/ZvFH3eOXkiA.
James Dissette ’71 has been a self-employed writer, graphic designer for industry and individuals, and limited-edition book printer for 40 years. Currently he is the editor at the Chestertown Spy, sole proprietor of Chester River Press, partner at Mad Parrot Press in Michigan, and designer for Harold Grinspoon Foundation in New York City and Tel Aviv—all of which lets him continue an immersion in the arts and writing. He is currently ghostwriting a non-fiction book about the U.S. violations of the laws and customs of war. His collection of poems, Lightning Round, is scheduled to be finished next spring. He lives in Chestertown.
The finalists each have focused their academic studies in the humanities, predominantly in art & art history, English, communication & media studies, creative writing, and journalism, editing & publishing. They are, below:
MacKenzie Brady • Baltimore
An English and studio art major, MacKenzie Brady is the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Elm; poetry editor for the student literary and arts magazine, Collegian; managing editor of the student journal of liberal arts and sciences, Washington College Review; president of Writers’ Union; a poetry screener for the national literary journal, Cherry Tree; and a member of the National English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta. Brady’s portfolio contains poems, flash fiction, essays, and a satirical Elm article exploring relationships, personhood, and family that pushes the limits on form. After graduation, Brady will be working as a reporter for the Kent County News, with plans to pursue an MFA in poetry sometime in the not-so-distant future.
"What's impressed me most about Washington College is all of the different opportunities I've had here. Being able to work on all the publications and have my hands in so many things has been really great."
Nicole Hatfield • Columbia, MD
An English major with minors in creative writing and journalism, editing and publishing, Nicole Hatfield is an intern in the College’s Department of English. Hatfield has been a poetry screener for the past two years for Cherry Tree: A National Literary Magazine @ Washington College She is an active member of the Campus Garden, was an intern at the Eastern Shore Food Lab, and achieved academic distinction as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Hatfield’s portfolio, "Inhabit," includes a collection of poems, personal essays, and literary analyses, many focused on placemaking and the body.
Rebecca Kanaskie • Tamaqua, Pennsylvania
An English major with a minor in journalism, editing & publishing, Rebecca Kanaski worked as a peer consultant for the Writing Center, a photographer for The Elm, a nonfiction screener for Cherry Tree, and was a member of the both the prestigious Cater Society for Junior Fellows and Phi Beta Kappa. Kanaskie’s writing portfolio centers around the facets that constitute place and how they shape one’s personal identity. As her creative nonfiction pieces, academic essays, and prose poetry alternately switch between the creative and academic aspects of photojournalism, Kanaskie’s portfolio culminates in a reflection of the lasting impact natural spaces can hold upon the human mind while also serving as a reminder of the importance of preserving the environment while we are still able to. Having graduated in December 2020, Kanaskie is working at The Brinton Museum in Big Horn, Wyoming, and will attend the University of Idaho for a master’s degree in English literature this fall.
Justin Nash • Smyrna, Delaware
An English major with three minors (journalism, publishing & editing; communication & media studies; and art & art history), Justin Nash came to Washington College through the Cherry Tree Young Writers’ Conference, attending two conferences before enrolling in the fall of 2017.
At WC, Justin has held a number of literary positions, including Editor-in-Chief of Collegian, the campus literary magazine, and the Washington College Review, the liberal arts journal. He has been senior poetry reader for Cherry Tree: A National Literary Magazine @ Washington College, vice president of the Writers’ Union, and a member of both the Cater Society of Junior Fellows and Sigma Tau Delta.
"I thought Washington College was the perfect place for me to do everything I wanted to do," he says. "I knew the English department was great, but The Cherry Tree journal and the Rose O'Neill Literary House opened up a new world for me."
The poems, stories, and essays in his portfolio, collectively titled Prestidigitate, examine travel, childhood, and conceit through manipulated address and formal play.
Nash will be looking for jobs in publishing and book production, and is considering pursuing an MFA in poetry.
Megan Walsh • Timonium, MD
Megan Walsh is an English major with a minor in creative writing. In her time at Washington College, she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega, a peer tutor in the Writing Center, a poetry editor for the literary journal Collegian, and a member of Writers’ Union, She was honored to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Walsh’s writing portfolio includes a collection of poetry and short stories that revolve around themes of trauma, self, physicality, and loss. After graduation, she plans to intern for the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library through the Starr Center’s Explore America program.
Tamia Williams • Millsboro, Delaware
Tamia Williams is a double major in English and communication & media studies with three minors (Black studies; creative writing; and journalism, editing & publishing. While participating in Writers’ Union and Cleopatra’s Sisters, she’s worked with various departments around campus to enrich her community. Supported by the Starr Center's Explore America program, Williams interned in the publishing office at the Library of Congress. She had a second internship with the National Endowment for the Humanities, and achieved distinction as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Her writing portfolio, “Learning to Unlearn,” includes a collection of academic essays, nonfiction pieces, and standalone prose focusing on identity, family, and spirituality.
"I grew up in a Christian household with traditional values. Now I see myself as a spiritual person who is not constrained by stereotypes of ethnicity and race," she says.
After graduation, she is heading out for a road trip with friends, before applying for a position in publishing.