Six Washington College seniors today were named finalists for the 53rd annual Sophie Kerr Prize, at $63,538 the nation’s largest literary award for college undergraduates. The finalists represent the liberal arts and sciences in a range of majors and minors, from creative writing and English to environmental studies and sociology.
Christine Lincoln, an award-winning author and motivational speaker who won the Sophie Kerr Prize in 2000, will preside over the finalists’ readings of their works and will announce the winner in a webinar hosted Friday evening at 7:30 on Zoom (bit.ly/SophieKerrPrize2020. Her stories have appeared on stage at Symphony Space and Word Theatre, read and performed by Don Cheadle, Gary Dourdan, and Lizan Mitchell. Her short stories have appeared in various literary journals including Pleiades Magazine and the Paris Review. She is Poet Laureate Emeritus of York, Pennsylvania, where she created a writing group at a local domestic violence safehouse to help survivors of trauma and abuse explore poetry as a means of healing.
“Although the Prize will be delivered virtually in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Sophie Kerr Committee is impressed with the real-world talents and promise for future literary endeavors demonstrated by the six finalists,” said Sean Meehan, Professor and Chair of English and Director of Writing who chairs the Sophie Kerr Committee. “The Committee notes remarkable strengths in the quality and diversity of writing that ranges from journalism, creative nonfiction, critical essays, and excerpts from senior theses, to various forms of poetry and fiction, both short and long. Judging from the advanced level of accomplishment and the maturity of voice and vision already demonstrated, the Committee expects to be hearing from these writers in years to come.
“As with the finalists, the overall group of portfolios submitted for the 2020 Prize was particularly strong in the range of academic disciplines represented, a hallmark of Washington College’s culture of writing,” he noted. “Majors and minors amongst the writers included communication and media studies, creative writing, English, environmental studies, journalism, editing &publishing, psychology, and sociology, among others.”
The finalists are:
Kailani M. Clarke, an environmental studies major from Centreville, Maryland, has sought to learn from as many college experiences as she could. This led her to participating with the Student Environmental Alliance, MMA Club, Campus Garden, and Eastern Shore Food Lab, as well as completing the Permaculture Internship and helping establish a WAC chapter of Active Minds, a national suicide prevention organization, at various points in her college career. Her academic achievement earned her a place in the Cater Society of Junior Fellows and the Kappa Alpha Omicron Environmental Honors Society. She has written the Pet of the Week article for The Elm since February 2019 and is a freelance writer for the shelter.
Clarke’s portfolio showcases her versatility as a writer with poetry, essays, articles spanning much of her college career. Fascinated by monsters, animals, and gray areas, her pieces explore themes of homecoming, mental health and chronic illness, injury and recovery, and wild versus domestic. At the heart of her work lies a deep reverence for nature, and a quest to embrace her place in the universe while learning to balance in a turbulent world. She is a three-time winner of the William W. Warner Prize for creative writing on nature and the environment.
Heber Guerra-Recinos, of Spring Valley, New York, is a double major in English and art &art history, with a minor in creative writing. A member of the first cohort of Washington Scholars, Guerra-Recinos was part of the Alpha Psi Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Habitat for Humanity, and a photographer and cartoonist for The Elm. His portfolio includes a collection of fiction and prose, many of which focus on personal experiences or exploration of forms and ideas.
Gabrielle Rente is an English major with minors in creative writing and journalism, editing &publishing. Hailing from Williamsburg, Virginia, she was a member of the Writers Union and Sigma Tau Delta, but her heart remains with The Elm, where she has been a staff writer, copy editor, and the Lifestyle editor. Rente’s portfolio contains a mixture of journalistic articles on subjects ranging from internet trends to environmental dilemmas alongside poems and short stories on family and growing pains. After graduation, she plans on pursuing a career in journalism.
Saoirse is an international student from India. She is a double major in English and sociology with triple minors in creative writing, gender studies, and journalism, editing &publishing. As an exophonic writer, her academic interests revolve around linguistic power dynamics, especially in connection to the land. Her research works in tandem with her creative pursuits in poetry and translation. In the future, she hopes to pursue a PhD. studying translinguality and the land-identity connection.
Mary Sprague is an English major from Ellicott City, Maryland. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Collegian and a copy-editor for The Elm. Sprague’s portfolio, Diorama, is a collection of short prose pieces most often about interpersonal relationships, sexuality, sexual assault, and isolation. Sometimes they’re also about bricks and ducks.
Abby Wargo is an English major with a double minor in creative writing and journalism, editing and publishing. She is from Hampstead, Maryland. At Washington College, she served as the Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper The Elm for two years. Wargo is also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honors society and Sigma Tau Delta English honors society. Her portfolio contains samples of poetry, creative nonfiction, journalism, and academic writing, many of which address issues of sex, love, trauma, and mental health. She plans to work as a journalist after graduation.
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