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Five Finalists for $61,000 Sophie Kerr Prize
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Washington College has announced five finalists for this year’s prestigious Sophie Kerr Prize for literary ability and promise. The largest undergraduate literary prize in the nation, this year’s Prize is valued at $61,192. The Sophie Kerr Committee, which includes the 11 full-time members of the English Department faculty, read through more than two dozen portfolios submitted by members of the Class of 2013 before choosing these finalists:
Emily Blackner, 21, is an English major with a double minor in creative writing and political science. A native of Perry Hall, Md., and a graduate of Perry Hall High School, she received a Sophie Kerr Scholarship her first year at Washington College. Blackner worked for the campus newspaper, The Elm, each of her three years at Washington College, most recently as news editor, was active in the College Democrats and was a communications intern in the Office of College Relations and Marketing. Blackner is a member of the national honor society Phi Beta Kappa, the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta and the political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha. She submitted a portfolio strong in well-researched long-form journalism, including an article about efforts to end the stigma of mental illness and an essay exploring why individuals choose to participate in politics. The committee members praised her as a “strong critical writer” with a particular “ability to sustain a story.”
Maegan Clearwood, 21, is an English and drama major from Middletown, Md., who has made her mark on campus as a leader in student journalism and theater. A graduate of Middletown High School, Clearwood has served as editor-in-chief of The Elm student newspaper at Washington College, interned for the Kent County News and been active in the Writers Union, Omicron Delta Kappa, Sigma Tau Delta, Phi Beta Kappa and the Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows. Clearwood completed her senior dramaturgy thesis on Shakespeare’s King Lear this spring, a project that included a trip to London to research the archives of the Globe Theatre and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Her Sophie Kerr portfolio includes features and profiles from her work at various print publications and a selection of creative nonfiction pieces. The committee summary described her as “an excellent student and a fine essayist.”
Tim Marcin, 21, is an English major with minors in creative writing and business management. He is a two-year captain of the men’s soccer team and served as sports editor of The Elm his senior year. A native of Wilmington, Del., where he attended Concord High School, Marcin is a member of the Washington College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and in 2012 became the first student ever to win both the Veryan Beacham Prize for writing about vital issues in public life and the William Warner Prize for writing about nature and the environment. His Sophie Kerr portfolio consists of an assortment of poems and nonfiction pieces that address obsessions and real-life experiences. The committee judges described his writing as “clever and distinctive.”
Jillian Obermeier, 23, is a double major in English and French who hails from Gaithersburg, Md., and graduated from Australia’s Canberra Girls Grammar School. Her work in the campus Writing Center and her Sophie Kerr portfolio represent her interest in literary analysis. She included in her submission multiple academic essays from across the English major and a chapter from her senior thesis. Obermeier is a member of both the English and French honor societies on campus and follows in her father’s footsteps as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. The judges praised her “strong critical essays, which reveal an appetite for challenging literature such as Beckett and Joyce.”
Bond Richards, 23, is an English major from Norfolk, Va., who graduated from Norfolk Collegiate School. He is a member of two international honor societies, the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta and the philosophy honor society Phi Sigma Tau, and has worked as a logic/philosophy tutor for the College’s Office of Academic Skills. His Sophie Kerr portfolio consists of three sections: poems, shorts stories and an excerpt from a screenplay about a man who accidentally discovers photographs of Sigmund Freud dressed in women’s clothing. “Bond is a true philosopher with an interest in avant-garde experimentation,” the committee wrote of his work.
The 2013 prizewinner announcement will be made on May 14, at 7:30 p.m., at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. This free, public event at one of the nation’s most historic and respected libraries will include remarks by Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda, a columnist for the Washington Post ’s “Book World.”
The finalists, each a graduating senior whose portfolio of writing stood out in a pool of more than two dozen applicants, will read selections from their writing, and then cross their fingers and hold their breath as Dirda returns to the podium to announce the Sophie Kerr winner. For those unable to attend, the entire event will be live-streamed through the Washington College website.
The actual check for the Prize, in the amount of $61, 192, will be awarded during Washington College’s 230th Commencement on Sunday, May 19.
“The committee was delighted by the high quality of all of the 2013 submissions,” says English Department Chair Kathryn Moncrief, who also chairs the Sophie Kerr Committee. “They were especially strong in nonfiction and journalism, and they show incredible promise for future accomplishment in writing and publishing.”
The 2013 announcement marks only the third year that finalists have been named for the Prize. Previously, the single winner was announced at Commencement, and those who came close remained unnamed and unacknowledged.
In returning to Maryland after two years in New York City, the May 14 announcement ceremony will mark a homecoming for the Sophie Kerr Prize. While benefactor Sophie Kerr spent her adult life in New York, where she built a successful career as a fiction writer and national magazine editor, she grew up in the Eastern Shore town of Denton, a short drive from the Washington College campus in Chestertown. At her death in 1965, she bequeathed much of her estate to Washington College, with the stipulation that half its income would be awarded annually to the senior showing “the most ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor.”
The other half of the endowment brings a steady stream of notable writers, authors and editors to campus for readings and workshops, provides scholarships for students who show literary promise, pays for library books and supports various other literary activities. Visiting luminaries have included Edward Albee, Jonathan Franzen, Allen Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snickett), Colum McCann, Junot Díaz and Natasha Tretheway.
The 2013 finalists for the Sophie Kerr Prize: standing Tim Marcin and Bond Richards; seated, Maegan Clearwood, Emily Blackner and Jillian Obermeier.