Monday, May 17, 2004

Washington College Awards Nation's Largest Undergraduate Literary Prize

Senior Wins $56,169 for Poetry, Essays

Chestertown, MD, May 16, 2004 — Most college seniors will look back on their graduation ceremony as a day of pomp and circumstance culminating in a handshake and a diploma. For Angela Haley, 21, an English major at Washington College in Chestertown, MD, the ceremony brought another reward: a check for $56,169. Haley's portfolio of poetry, critical essays and a short story earned her the largest undergraduate literary award in the country—the Sophie Kerr Prize—presented Sunday, May 16, during the College's 2004 Commencement ceremonies.

The awarding of the Sophie Kerr Prize, given annually to the graduating senior who demonstrates the greatest “ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor,” has in recent decades been a highlight of the commencement ceremony at the 222-year-old liberal arts college. The Prize, worth $56,169 this year, is among the largest literary awards in the world. Washington College has awarded nearly one million dollars in prize money since it was first given in 1968, most often to writers of poetry and fiction. Scholarly and journalistic works, though less often selected, are given equal consideration. Haley's winning submission was one of thirty-six portfolios entered in this year's competition.

“This was a difficult choice,” said English Professor Richard Gillin, who presided over the Sophie Kerr Prize Committee's deliberations. “There was a large and diverse pool with some excellent writers represented.”

Professor Robert Mooney, Director of the College's creative writing program and O'Neill Literary House, reiterated the strength of the finalists, saying, “The obvious excellence in such numbers makes me proud of the program.”

Professor Katherine Wagner, who served as Haley's thesis advisor cited the “maturity of vision” in Haley's poems balanced with “sensible, clear, well-researched criticism” as decisive factors in the committee's selection of Haley's portfolio. “Angie is adept in both formal and free verse,” Wagner said. “She tackles a variety of forms, structures and subject matter.”

While a student at Washington College, Haley was a recipient of a Hodson Trust Scholarship and a National Honor Society scholarship. She graduated graduated cum laude with departmental honors in English and with minors in gender studies and creative writing. Her work has been published in several campus publications, including the Washington College Review, the Collegian, and a student literary magazine entitled The Medium. A graduate of North Harford High School in Maryland, she previously served as editor of her high school literary magazine and also won several poetry prizes in high school.

Haley plans to continue her education, applying to MFA programs this winter. Down the road, she says in the introduction to her portfolio, she'd like to pursue a Ph.D. in Renaissance or women's studies.

The Sophie Kerr Prize is the namesake of an Eastern Shore woman who made her fortune in New York, writing women's fiction during the 1930s and 1940s. In accordance with the terms of her will, one-half of the annual income from her bequest to the College is awarded each year to the graduating senior demonstrating the best potential for literary achievement. The other half funds scholarships, supports student publications and the purchase of books, and brings an array of visiting writers, editors and publishers to campus to read, visit classes and discuss student work. Her gift has provided the nucleus for an abundance of literary activity on the bucolic Eastern Shore campus.

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