Sunday, May 20, 2007

Washington College Awards Nation's Largest Undergraduate Literary Prize at 225th Commencement

22-Year-Old Senior from Drexel Hill, PA, Wins $60,027 for Critical Writing and Drama

Chestertown, MD, May 20, 2007 — 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 Liam Daley, 22, a Washington College English and drama major from Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the ceremony brought another reward: a check for $60,027.

Daley's critical thesis on medieval English literature, along with his portfolio of plays and short prose pieces, earned him the largest literary award in the country exclusively for undergraduates—the Sophie Kerr Prize—presented Sunday, May 20, 2007, during the College's 225th 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 225-year-old liberal arts college. The Prize, worth $60,027 this year, is among the largest literary awards in the world.

Washington College has awarded more than one million dollars in prize money since the Sophie Kerr Prize 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.

Daley was one of 40 to submit a portfolio for consideration this year, a relatively high number of entrants that happened to include "a very extraordinary number of top talents," said English Professor Kathryn Moncrief. It was a combination of Daley's thesis and his playwriting skills, "both the critical and the creative," that earned him departmental honors from the English department and caught the attention of the Sophie Kerr Committee. "He was a standout in a particularly strong group filled with talent and promise," Moncrief said.

English Professor Richard Gillin, who presided over the committee's deliberations, praised Daley's skills as a dramatist. "With regard to Liam's plays, the rhythms of the dialogue paralleled the emotional turmoil of the characters, and the structuring of the plays' elements and the repartee among the characters are particular strengths."

Professor Corey Olsen, Daley's thesis adviser, echoed Gillin's enthusiasm for this year's winner. "Liam's work demonstrates remarkable wit and liveliness. Both his critical essays and his dramatic writing display his intellectual intrepidity and his literary perspicacity."

Noting that the winner has expressed a desire eventually to become a professor of English, Olsen remarked, "Liam has a very bright future in academia ahead of him."

Daley, a 2003 graduate of Upper Darby High School in Pennsylvania, spent one of his college years abroad studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is returning there this fall for graduate school.

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.

Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in historic Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, it is the first college chartered in the new nation.

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