Arbutus native graduates from Washington College with $64,000 Sophie Kerr prize for writing

Shannon Moran of Arbutus accepts the 2019 Sophie Kerr Prize.

An English major from Arbutus whose writing explores gender, trauma and the body is this year’s winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize, an award for promising writers graduating from Washington College in Chestertown.

Shannon Moran was awarded the prize, and nearly $64,000, for poetry and prose that examine family and romantic relationships, and also the lasting trauma of sexual assault, among its themes.


The honor is in its 52nd year, and officials say it is the highest-paying literary prize for undergraduates in the nation. It was established with an endowment from Kerr, a novelist and Eastern Shore native, left to the college in her will.

The funds also pay for scholarships, visiting writers and scholars and library books. College officials say it enables the school to bring in many students with creative potential in writing and literature.


Moran said the strong literary legacy drew her to the school, as did her sister, who also graduated from the school. Moran became the poetry editor for the student literary review, The Collegian, and the blog and social media editor for the students newspaper, The Elm.

Sean Meehan, chair of the department of English and the Sophie Kerr Committee, said, “The committee found Shannon’s poetry to be unforgettable and remarkable in its impact and coherence. We marveled at the creative and intellectual integrity of the work overall, the ways that she deftly relates issues of gender, trauma, and the body across her poetry, her senior thesis on Renaissance tragedy, and a screenplay.”

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Meehan said Moran, chosen from among six finalists graduating from the school this year, was already creating publishable work. Others were majoring in political science, English, music and Hispanic studies.

Among the works cited was a poem, “Persephone Sings Drunk Karaoke,” in which she writes: “She forgets the sounds / of earth / cracking / sky turning to / void / fingers wrapped around wrist. / She steps up to a microphone and clears / submission / from her larynx. / She screams / Man, I feel / like a woman.”

Another poem, “list of texts i typed but never sent to my mother on the day of Dr. Christine Blasé Ford’s testimony,” she writes: “1. I haven’t gotten out of bed yet / 2. Do you know? / 3. Send pics of the dog :) / 4. If one in every four women is sexually assaulted, what did you think would happen when you had four daughters?”

Moran intends to spend some time deciding exactly what to pursue next: poetry, music production or maybe screenwriting. She plans to take a year off and then attend graduate school.

“It’s going to take some time for this to settle in,” she said Friday evening after she was awarded the prize. “I’m looking forward to the future with a lot more confidence.”

She said she hopes her writing helps people understand things that maybe aren’t so familiar to them but are happening around them, like sexual assaults.


“I hope people reading my work regarding an unfamiliar subject see the humanity,” she said, “and be kinder to each other.”