Finalists Named for Sophie Kerr Prize


The award is the largest undergraduate writing prize in the nation. The winner will be announced this Friday.  

The 2024 finalists for the Sophie Kerr Prize stand on the stairs in the Rose O'Neill Literary House

Washington College has named five students to its short list for the 2024 Sophie Kerr Prize, which is valued at just over $77,000 this year. Now in its 57th year, the prize continues to be the nation’s largest literary award for a college student and totals more than the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award combined. The winner will be announced at a ceremony this Friday, May 17, after the finalists all read from their work. The announcement will be livestreamed on YouTube

Courtney Rydel, associate professor of English and chair of the English department, announced the graduating seniors vying for this year’s prize. All are from Maryland. Their portfolios included an exhibition of the "provocative power" of the story across several forms including poetry, research, and podcasts; a collection of short stories, flash, a novella, and a personal essay on the indulgence of abject and ugly emotions; poetry on the natural world; sonnets focusing on the cyclical nature of human love and experience; and themes of community and queer love through film criticism, personal editorials, and reporting. 

The 2024 Sophie Kerr Award finalists are: 

  • Liv Barry, a communication and media studies major from Dundalk, Maryland, minoring in journalism, editing and publishing, and theatre. 
  • Dante Chavez, an English major from Baltimore minoring in computer science and creative writing. 
  • Sophie Foster, an English major from Reisterstown, Maryland, minoring in creative writing and journalism, editing and publishing.
  • Vivienne “Vee” Sharp, an English and art history double major from Westminster, Maryland, minoring in creative writing.
  • Joshua Torrence, an English and psychology double major from Parkville, Maryland, minoring in gender studies. 

"Everyone who submits a portfolio for the Sophie Kerr Prize shows courage, in allowing others to scrutinize the work they hold so dear,” said Rydel. “It further takes incredible talent, persistence, and aesthetic insight to produce writing on the level that these finalists have created. We repeatedly were struck by the risk, ambition, lyricism, sonic texture, and insight in these finalists' portfolios, and we look forward to hearing them share their exciting and original work in the reading in Friday's prize ceremony.”

A proud tradition of Washington College’s liberal arts education, the Sophie Kerr Prize is named for an early 20th century writer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland who published more than 20 novels and hundreds of short stories. In her will, Kerr left a generous bequest to the College with the stipulation that half of its annual proceeds fund a literary prize for a student.

Open to graduating seniors from any major at Washington College, the prize is awarded each year to the student who has the best ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor. In the past, it has been awarded for both creative and critical writing alike. A full list of Sophie Kerr Prize winners since its inception in 1968 is available online.

Portfolios submitted for consideration encompass the full range of writing that students pursue at Washington College, including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, screenplays and drama, journalism, editing, scholarly criticism, and research in all disciplines, and even song lyrics. A committee comprised of full-time faculty in the English Department and the President review and make the final decision. Winners are chosen for their literary excellence, regardless of genre.

“It was particularly difficult to winnow the portfolios down to this group of five stellar writers, whose work showcases an impressive range of genres: from music journalism to innovatively lyrical sci-fi, to stories and poems that are as formal as they are experimental,” said James Hall, director of the Washington College Rose O’Neill Literary House and associate professor of English and creative writing. “The five finalists have in common a sonorous lyricism, a bravery to voice from the margins, and a love of both literary tradition and a daring to reinvent it."

The winner will be announced at Friday night’s award ceremony at 7:30 p.m. EST in Hotchkiss Recital Hall at Washington College’s Gibson Center for the Arts. The ceremony is open to the public and will also be livestreamed on YouTube.

In addition to the life-changing literary award, the support made possible by Sophie Kerr’s gift continues to fund experiences and offerings for Washington College students throughout the academic year. For more than 50 years the endowment has brought many of the nation’s top writers, editors, and scholars to Washington’s campus including Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Pinsky, Edward Albee, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, James McBride, Eamon Grennan, Charles Simic, and Jane Smiley. Funding scholarships and internships and enabling research in literature, writing, and publishing, round out the impressive impact made possible by the Sophie Kerr legacy.

— Dominique Ellis Falcon

The Finalists

Liv Barry 

Liv Barry is a communication and media studies major from Dundalk, Maryland, minoring in journalism, editing, and publishing, and theatre. Over the past year, she acted as the editor-in-chief of Washington College’s weekly newspaper, The Elm, while working as the front of house and ticketing manager for the theatre department, program manager for Radio Free George, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Prior to her tenure as editor-in-chief, she wrote for the Baltimore Fishbowl and the Kent County News. Her portfolio contains film criticism, personal editorials, and reporting, through lining themes of community and queer love in her work.

Dante Chavez

Dante Chavez is an English major from Baltimore with minors in computer science and creative writing. During his time at Washington College, he completed multiple internships with the Rose O'Neill Literary House including the Literary House Summer Internship, two Cherry Tree Publishing internships, three Cherry Tree Young Writer's Conference internships and most recently, the social media and marketing internship. Alongside those internships, he also achieved distinction as a member of both the Sigma Tau Delta and Omicron Delta Kappa honor societies, serving as treasurer for the former. Chavez's portfolio "The Shape of Story: An Exploration in 5 Forms" intends to be an exhibition of the "provocative power" of the story across five normally disparate forms, including but not limited to poetry, research paper, and even a podcast. After graduation, Chavez plans to participate in his fourth and final Cherry Tree Young Writer's Conference this summer.

Sophie Foster

Sophie Foster is graduating from Washington College with a degree in English. In her time here, she has been editor-in-chief of Collegian, president of Writers’ Union, and opinion editor of The Elm. Primarily a poet, her work largely tends to personal internality and inclinations toward the natural world. Next year, the Reisterstown native will be beginning her poetry Master of Fine Arts, and in the longer term, she hopes to pursue a career in publishing, but for now, she’s probably speedwalking around campus or making another unnecessary itinerary. 

Vivienne “Vee” Sharp

Vee Sharp is a double major in English and art history with a minor in creative writing. Sharp hails from Westminster, Maryland, and served as the art director for Collegian for two years, a copy editor for The Elm for three, a member of the Libby and Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows, and co-vice president of communications for the Sigma Tau Delta honors society. This portfolio is a collection focusing on prose, including short stories, flash, a novella, and a personal essay, all themed around the indulgence of abject, ugly emotions and speculative fiction. After graduation, Sharp will be continuing to work as a prose reader, web designer, and in PR for Alan Squire Publishing to prepare for a further career in the literary field.

Joshua Torrence

Joshua Torrence is an English and psychology major from Parkville, Maryland. They served as an editor of Collegian and as secretary of Writers’ Union. They acted in a variety of theatre productions, most recently as Poseidon, Hades, and Mr. D in the Washington College production of The Lightning Thief. They are a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Torrence’s writing portfolio includes a crown of sonnets and an abridged version of their senior capstone experience, each focusing on the cyclical nature of human love and experience. After graduation, Torrence plans to pursue a Master of Arts in Counseling.