The announcement of the winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize, the nation's largest undergraduate literary award, will return next year to Washington College's Chestertown campus after a brief stint when it was given in New York City or Baltimore, officials announced Tuesday.
Traditionally, the winner had been honored during the college's commencement. But in 2011, officials moved it elsewhere, saying that student disappointment at failing to win cast a pall over graduation for some entrants. The change drew criticism from alumni and students.
Laura Maylene Walter, who won the prize in 2003 and lives in Cleveland, applauded school officials for bringing the award back to Washington College, where it will be announced the night before commencement.
"It belongs there," Walter said. "It's a special part of Washington College; it only seems right to award it on campus and have the winner surrounded by his or her professors and friends."
The announcement was made in New York City in 2011 and 2012, and then moved to Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library for 2013 and this year. In another change, the last two announcements included the naming of five finalists; before that, only the winner was announced.
The announcement was streamed via video cast at the school to the chagrin of students, faculty and the college community, many of whom never wanted the venue changed in the first place.
"I think it's great to try new things; naming finalists was a great idea ... and I like that they took pressure off graduation day," Walter said."But I was disappointed that it was moved from Chestertown; that is the prize's home. New York was great and it provided an exciting trip for the students, but New York has the literary world, and there's only one Sophie Kerr Prize."
The 2015 announcement is slated for May 15 at the on-campus Gibson Center for the Arts, school officials said. The recipient will be given the prize during commencement.
"We knew this would be a process of experimentation to learn what works best for the students, their families, and the greater College community. We will see how the 2015 event goes, then re-evaluate," Kathryn Moncrief, the Sophie Kerr Committee chair and English department chair, said in an email. "Both New York and Baltimore were positive experiences for us and for the students."
The Sophie Kerr Prize was created in the bequest of the popular writer and editor from Denton who rose to literary prominence in New York City during the early 1900s. Kerr died of a heart attack in 1965 at age 84 and left much of her estate to Washington College, despite having not graduated from the school.
Kerr stipulated that half of her endowment had to go to honoring a graduating senior "chosen as having the best ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor."
The prize has been awarded for both creative and critical writing, and the cash amount for the prize has vaulted from $9,000 in its initial year in 1968 to as much as $68,814 in 2009, school officials said.