Growing up on the Eastern Shore afforded Alex Stinton plenty to describe. The subjects surrounded him: the sounds, the wildlife, the water.
The boy who grew up reading in the bayfront community of Wittman, and later dug into William Wordsworth, has parlayed his skill for prose into the nation's largest undergraduate literary prize.
Stinton, a senior studying English and creative writing at Washington College, took home $61,382 as the winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize during a ceremony Tuesday night at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Jurors noted Stinton's knowledge of classical works, which was prevalent in his poetry. Stinton says he came under the spell of Wordsworth, a 19th-century English Romantic poet, after he read his work in a seventh-grade language arts class at St. Michaels Middle School.
"I remember that pretty distinctly," Stinton said. "I didn't know what he was talking about while we were reading it. He did some pretty cool things with language and sounds and rhythms. I wanted to start writing at first to try to emulate that excitement and that joy."
At the beginning of May, Washington College announced five finalists for the Sophie Kerr Prize. A committee of English Department faculty chose finalists Grace Arenas, Peter Fortenbaugh, Kimberly Uslin, Kay Wicker and Stinton from a pool of 32 seniors.
Sophie Kerr, a successful fiction writer and national magazine editor, left much of her estate to Washington College at her death in 1965. She made a condition that half of the annual income from the endowment each year be awarded to the senior with "the most ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor."
Poet Mary Jo Salter offered keynote remarks.
Arenas, a double major in English and French, was the lifestyle editor for the campus newspaper and a peer tutor in the writing center.
Fortenbaugh is a Hispanic studies major with a minor in creative writing who has studied in Ecuador and Argentina.
Uslin, an English major and creative writing minor, wrote her senior thesis on Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger.
Wicker, an English major with minors in creative writing and art history, served as editor-in-chief of the campus paper.
Stinton's submission included 14 poems from his thesis, "The Eternal in the Poetry of W.B. Yeats."
One juror stated, "Many of his poems evoke a strong sense of place, most often the Eastern Shore."
In his thesis, Stinton said he considers Yeats "the greatest poet in the language."
Stinton, 23, finished his studies in December and is scheduled to graduate on Saturday. He plans to apply to graduate school to study poetry and eventually enroll in a master of fine arts program. He says he looks forward to participating in workshops.
He was joined Tuesday by his parents, his grandmother and his girlfriend — whom he plans to take to Ireland later this year with a portion of his winnings.