“Although the sense of equality is made the basis of many social and political ideals, the real conditions of rich cooperative life are fulfilled only when the bare idea of equality is replaced by the realization of the unity of all life.” – Meher Baba, Discourses
On a heavily shaded lot, barely visible amidst dark-leafed old hardwood trees, the Sophie Kerr House with its unpretentious wooden white sign is little more than an afterthought to passersby in Denton.
No historical marker of more permanence tells those with at least a casual interest anything about Kerr.
Nothing is said of her early years growing up in Caroline County’s seat of government, or what may have spawned her later success as a writer and editor in one of the world’s fiercest cauldrons for testing literary aspirants. Did the stark contrast between her sleepy riverside birthplace and the electric dynamism of New York City where Kerr landed strike an undeniable creative spark? A spark more akin to a lightning bolt than the lightning bugs she grew up with in the dusks of muggy summer nights?
Nothing is said about her prolific fictional writings in the 1930s and 1940s centered largely around female characters.
And nothing is said about her significant financial bequest to Chestertown’s Washington College that has nurtured and cultivated a vibrant literary scene for the small liberal arts school.
In addition to bringing distinctive literary programs and notable figures to Washington College, annual proceeds from the Kerr bequest fund one of the nation’s richest literary awards.
Through the many decades since the award was established in 1968, its proceeds have helped many dedicated editors and writers hone their literary craft.
A press release about the 2022 award explains the Sophie Kerr Award: “In accordance with the terms of her will, half of the annual income from her bequest to the College is awarded each year to the graduating senior demonstrating the best potential for future achievement in a literary endeavor. Valued at more than $68,000 in 2022, it remains the nation’s largest undergraduate writing prize, more than the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award combined.”
The 2022 award was presented in May to Teddy Friedline of Greenville, South Carolina.
It’s tough to say what Kerr may have been leaning toward when she mentioned “potential for future achievement in a literary endeavor” as the guiding criteria for the judges making the award. That discussion certainly wouldn’t fit on an historical marker.
But, did Kerr conclude, in her silent musings on her dying wishes, that the importance of literary achievement lies within its ability to bring people together through communication? Communication made effective through engaging use of language resonating with compelling relationships and ideas shared between people?
Was she a kindred spirit of Russian philosopher and novelist Leo Tolstoy who wrote something to the effect that art succeeds as art to the extent to which it enhances the sense of brotherhood, sisterhood, theyhood and yohood between people? Communication that ultimately brings us more together through its enlightening discipline?
If so, Kerr was way ahead of her time in realizing the importance of effective communication through literature for an increasingly divided world.
In an acceptance speech for this year’s award, Friedline briefly tapped into those deep roots and quoted poet Frank O’Hara: “I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.”
Friedline gave thanks to professors, family members, finalists for the award and others who figured in the literary journey that culminated in the moment.
“In the introduction to my portfolio I wrote about community,” said Friedline, “and how my most favorite thing about literary life on campus and literature in general is community. Appreciating community makes us better as writers and even more so makes us better as people.”
Sophie Kerr, through her extensive writing and editing of many prominent publications, did more than her part in synchronizing the minds and hearts of hundreds of thousands of people – at least temporarily – through their simple but profound act of reading her work.
In that sense she helped create community. No doubt she would concur with Friedline’s sentiments.
Samples of Friedline’s Writing
The introduction to the website reads: “my name is Teddy Friedline (they/them/theirs). i’m a queer writer, artist, editor, & the like. Here you can find some of my work, my social media, and my contact info. if you’re reading this, i’m probably thinking about cicadas.”
Here are two samples chosen from Teddy’s website. Game Show was published in streetcake magazine. Badlung Press’s ‘Depression Cookbook – Sad Minds for Sad People’ published Friedline’s Recipe pieces.
Hello, welcome to the game show. This game show is easy, and you can win fabulous prizes. In order to win, all you have to do is choose between two boys. The boys are the same. The boys are different because one of them is a boy and one of them is a painting of a boy. All you have to do is look in this mirror and tell our studio audience what you see. All you have to do is forget the boys I mentioned before. All you have to do is number your narrow teeth and scrape the paint off your fingernails before picking the nails themselves into sharp crescents that fall into your lap. All you have to do is answer these trivia questions. All you have to do is put on this padding and make these shapes with your body. All you have to do is be lucky. All you have to do is get lucky. Congratulations, you’ve won. You get to choose between two prizes. The first is a boy who’s solid and blue under the skin, no organs, whom you can love and who will maybe love you back. The second is a boy who is looking in a mirror at himself, never at you even if you share the mirror with him. The first boy is sitting on the front steps crying and the second boy is sitting in the attic smoking a joint. Both boys come state-of-the-art with wet mouths and long smooth chests that beat with warmth. Here, behind door number 2, here are both boys at once. They are the same boy. Look how they make an ouroboros, dick into mouth and dick into mouth, identical empty moans. In order to choose you have to be able to tell the boys apart. Congratulations, you’ve won. You get to choose between these two prizes. Ooh, I’m sorry, you haven’t won. You can’t tell the difference between something and itself. No one can do that. I’m sorry, that’s not correct. You’ve done so well. Thank you for playing.
A Recipe For Admiration
• 1 David Bowie corpse • 1 record player
1. Get a friend to help you lift the corpse of David Bowie.
2. Put the corpse on the record player. Make sure the spindle skewers him just above the belly button.
3. Put the needle on his nipple and turn the player on.
4. Watch his limbs rot and fall off as he spins around.
5. Scream “Suffragette City” and kneel by the record player to collect every single fallen hair.
A Recipe For Sorrow
• 2 slices of bread • 1 mother
1. Make toast.
2. Think of your mother.
A Recipe For the Feeling of Sunshine on the Skin
• 1 backyard or local park • 1 book of matches
• 1 bookshelf
• 1 clear day
1. 2. 3. 4.
7. 8. 9.
Preheat your oven to 350°F, 177°C, or gas mark 4.
Prepare your bookcase by looking at it. Stare at the bookcase. Notice it. Realize it is there. Decide that the bookcase is too beautiful to continue.
Pull all of your books and tchotchkes off the bookshelf and leave them in disorganized piles around your kitchen.
Drag your empty bookshelf to your backyard or local park.
Destroy the bookshelf. Pull out its shelves and break them; punch holes through the backing; cut the entire structure in half.
Collect the remains of the bookshelf and put them in a pile.
Set the bookshelf on fire and watch it grow into a fantastic blaze.
Sit before the burning bookcase and absorb its heat.
Examples of Friedline’s writing and voice are available at teddyfriedline.carrd.co/.
Dennis Forney has been a publisher, journalist and columnist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972. He writes from his home on Grace Creek in Bozman.