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Meet the 2016 Sophie Kerr Finalists!

Date: May 18, 2016
To help get to know the five Sophie Kerr Finalist of 2016, we asked them to answer four questions. Click on the links below each finalist’s answers to read samples from their portfolios!
  1. What was the book from your childhood that has influenced you the most?
  2. Of all the texts you have studied at Washington College, which has had the most powerful impact on you?
  3. Who are your literary or intellectual influences?
  4. What are your plans for after graduation?


Nicholas Anstett

Out of the many books that I read and were read to me as a child, I have the fondest memories of James Gurney’s Dinotopia. Not only did it have dinosaurs, which, come on, dinosaurs, Dinotopia and its countless sequels carried with them a strong central moral of care and understanding for different living beings no matter of species, history, belief or size. Each book is filled with an overwhelming sense of discovery but also genuine compassion for the world and its inhabitants. It’s an important lesson to teach a young person and what better way to do so than adventures starring people riding pteranodons. 

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. Smith’s ability to blend multiple narratives together into a singular story about race, colonialism, classism, and faith in contemporary UK fascinated me both in its subject as well as style and remains one of my favorite books to this day.

The creators, whether they be writers for page or screen, that have had the most creative and personal influence on me are: Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Joel and Ethan Cohen, John Le Carre, Brian K. Vaughn, Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, Annie Dillard, and Cormac McCarthy. 

I will be working for Diamond Comic Distributions in Hunt Valley, MD and hopefully will continue to produce creative written work for both the page and screen. I plan to shoot a short film in Baltimore this summer with a tentative Fall 2016 release.

Nick’s Writing Sample 


Rachel Brown

I was a voracious fan of Brian Jacques’s Redwall series…I’m not sure where its influence appears in my writing, if at all, but in my daily life I’ve learned I value that kind of friendship over a lot of things. As a child, I actually got to meet Brian Jacques, a cheerful white-bearded man with an astonishing Liverpool accent; I remember him nodding very seriously and shaking my hand when I told him I want to be a writer too. I still have my copy of Redwall, its spine barely held together with athletic tape.

I would say this is a tie between Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and Helena María Viramontes’s collection The Moths and Other Stories. I read Foer’s novel in freshman year, and aside from being a thorny joy to read, it was one of the first books that made me realize that it was possible to sustain in a cohesive narrative the kind of bizarre alternate reality, both intimate and macrocosmic, that I grasp at in my own short fiction. Helena María Viramontes’s stories are incredible: like vibrant fruit with layers of bitterness rooted in. They reanimated my interest experimenting with the form of short stories, but also explores voices and cultures—that is, Latin@ & Chican@ cultures—that are incredibly important and a constant source of fascination for me. Being able to meet her, speak with her about her craft, and hear her talk about the important of both compassion and politics in art was one of the most powerful experiences of my college career.

I’m a big believer in trying to learn from pretty much everyone you interact with, but here are a few special influences:

  • Vincent van Gogh, for the untenable passion of his way of seeing, his love of color, and the letters he kept
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, for her amazing world-building and molecular grasp of character, and for her synthesis of science fiction and anthropology
  • Annie Dillard, for her wound-tender transcendentalist lyricism, her compassion, and her way of looking at the environment
  • My fellow writers here at WAC, for their sheer dedication to their craft, their willingness to experiment, to poke at their own sense of self until poems come out, and to support others’ efforts to write truthfully and well

I’ll be working at National Geographic Digital as an administrative assistant, soaking up the experience of interacting with world-class photographers and writers as I do. Afterwards, I hope to move to practicing cultural journalism in my own right, perhaps with a Fulbright grant to the Andes Mountains, or by simply traveling, talking to people, and telling their stories as richly as I can. I also plan to continue writing and attempting to publish my own creative work, in whatever form that may take—poetry, fiction, essay, novel, experimental, etc.

Rachel’s Writing Sample                                       


Reilly Cox

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (well, Richard Howard’s translation of it) is a book that really affected me as a kid. My mother would read to us and I remember we had this old copy of the book I loved handling—I’ve always had a fondness for old books—and it was a silly, melancholy story that I enjoyed. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned the sad history that lead to the book’s creation, which can serve to remind me to make something beautiful when bad things happen.

I’ve cried from several of the poetry collections I’ve read in Dr. Dubrow’s workshop this semester, so there have been moments of severe impact, but for me the most impactful text I’ve studied here has been Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I started studying it in high school and feel that it’s a part of me—I probably have twenty copies of it at this point. I have no desire to write like Shakespeare or to emulate any of his characters but, for me, Hamlet is one of many universal texts I could choose to revisit, and I do. 

My poetry professors—Jehanne Dubrow, James Allen Hall, and Emma Sovich—all influence the way I approach and revise my writing and have irreparably strengthened my writing. There are also storytellers—Gabriel García Márquez and Sherman Alexie come to mind—who I try to emulate in the form and flow of my own stories. As for intellectual influences, there are Existentialists and Naturalists and Pacifists and the like that I read and discuss but the means by which I come to understand them are my brother.

The first thing I’m doing after graduation is traveling—there are a couple trips I have lined up to get me to parts of the country I’ve been meaning to visit. Afterwards, I plan on living and working in Baltimore for a few years in order to get back to the fundamentals of writing. After those few years, I’ll be pursuing an MFA in either Poetry or Book Arts.

Reilly’s Writing Sample


Grace O’Connor

Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife resonated with me on two levels: as a writer and as a growing woman. I wanted to emulate her vivid imagery and precise language within my own writing. There are multiple moments within that book that not only informed my own decisions, but also still impact the way I view myself navigating experience, especially experience that sometimes tries to straddle reality and a sense of unreality.

Studying Wuthering Heights and writing my thesis on it has impacted the way I investigate psychological reactions to personal trauma, natural environment, and growth thereafter. Brontë, deeply concerned with the human spirit and how experience shapes it, offered a way to investigate what can grow amid the bramble, and that perhaps the brambles themselves are growth worth scrutiny, too.

I’m heavily influenced by all the spoken word poets I’ve come in contact with over the years, whether at my local library or on the internet. Gabriel García Márquez, Aracelis Girmay, and Angela Carter have also informed me as a writer. 

I plan on working as a Literacy Lead for Baltimore’s Reading Partners through Americorps, so I’ll be tutoring elementary students as well as other tutors. After that, I plan on pursuing a graduate degree in Composition and Rhetoric and, eventually, an MFA in poetry.

Grace’s Writing Sample



Alexandria Smythe

Like most people my age, I read all of the Harry Potter book series as a child, and that is probably the answer that many, including myself, would give to that question. I think that it has had such an impact because the world that J.K Rowling created was imaginative and engaging for a child, but, beyond that initial appeal, she also created characters that seem real, although their world is not. I think that reading Harry Potter from a young age taught me the importance of writing believable, three-dimensional characters.

 I wrote my senior thesis on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, so that novel has probably had the most powerful impact on me because I spent a year with it, researching and writing. I studied how she had crafted the novel, seeing how the characters changed from early drafts and how her thought process evolved in her journal. It taught me about the process of revising a piece of writing over time.

Environmental essayist Annie Dillard has been influential in my work. I am drawn to her narrative voice, which is both knowledgeable and personal. Through her work, I have learned that writing is not imaginative but also highly researched. It encourages me to be curious about the world and seek out answers for myself.

I am in the process of looking for a job after graduation. I am not sure what I want to do yet, but I would like to work with writing in some capacity.

Alex’s Writing Sample


Last modified on May. 17th, 2017 at 3:19pm by Julia Armstrong.