A student-poet who grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore will receive $61,382 as winner of the nation's largest undergraduate literary award, the Sophie Kerr Prize, at Washington College.
Alexander Stinton, a native of Wittman, Md., was named the winner of the 47th Prize at a public event honoring him and four other finalists on Tuesday evening, May 13, at Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library. The other finalists are Grace Arenas of Baldwin, Md., Peter Fortenbaugh of Chestertown, Md., Kimberly Uslin of New Oxford, Pa., and Kay Wicker of Columbia, Md. A total of 32 seniors submitted portfolios to be considered for the Prize.
The Sophie Kerr Prize is awarded each year to the Washington College senior who shows the most "ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor." Stinton, a graduate of St. Michaels High School, entered Washington College with a Sophie Kerr Scholarship and an invitation to join the Presidential Fellows, a select group of high-achieving students at the College. An English major with a minor in Creative Writing, he was inducted into the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta and won the 2014 Jude and Miriam Pfister Poetry Prize, which is awarded for a single poem.
His Sophie Kerr portfolio included fourteen poems and an excerpt from his senior thesis, "The Eternal in the Poetry of W.B. Yeats." The English Department faculty who sit on the Prize jury praised Stinton's poetry as very polished and informed by his knowledge of classical works. "Many of his poems evoke a strong sense of place, most often the Eastern Shore," one juror noted. In the introduction to his portfolio, Stinton wrote, "For years I have struggled with my thoughts and feelings regarding the Eastern Shore, where I was born and raised and have lived all my life. It is only now, as an adult studying poetry, that I can come to 'write' the Shore with reasonable amounts of confidence and creative ability." He also wrote that he considers Yeats "the greatest poet in the language (though [Seamus] Heaney is a strong contender)."
At the announcement event in Baltimore, renowned poet Mary Jo Salter, co-chair of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, delivered keynote remarks and returned to the podium later to reveal the winner's name. As stipulated by benefactor Sophie Kerr's will, Stinton will receive the Prize check during Washington College's 231st commencement onSaturday, May 17.
The Sophie Kerr Prize was established by a posthumous gift from Kerr, a prolific writer who grew up in Denton, Md., and built a successful publishing career in New York City. She was managing editor of Woman's Home Companion magazine and authored 23 novels and hundreds of short stories before her death in 1965. Over the years, the endowment from her gift has provided more than $1.4 million in prize money to promising young writers, in amounts that have ranged from $9,000 in 1968, the inaugural year, to a high of nearly $69,000 in 2009. Winners have gone on to establish careers as writers, editors, teachers, and marketing professionals, and many have published their work as novels or collections of short stories or poetry.
The other half of Kerr's bequest funds scholarships and library acquisitions and brings world-class literary figures to campus for public readings and workshops. Such luminaries as Edward Albee, Jonathan Franzen and Toni Morrison have visited Washington College under the auspices of the Sophie Kerr Lecture Series. More recent guests have included poet Natasha Trethewey, and novelists Junot Díaz and Tim O'Brien.
Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in historic Chestertown, Md., a Colonial town on the Chester River. Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, it was the first college to be chartered in the new nation.