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Calvert Hall grad wins $62,000 Washington College literary prize

Alexander R. Vidiani, a Washington College senior, has won the largest student literary prize in the nation, the Sophie Kerr Prize, this year worth $62,900.
Alexander R. Vidiani, a Washington College senior, has won the largest student literary prize in the nation, the Sophie Kerr Prize, this year worth $62,900. (HANDOUT / Baltimore Sun)

Alexander R. Vidiani, a Calvert Hall graduate from Hunt Valley, won the largest student literary prize in the nation Friday.

A panel of professors selected the 22-year-old Washington College senior as the winner of the school's Sophie Kerr Prize, which this year is worth $62,900.

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"I'm very lightheaded," Vidiani said after receiving word of the honor. He said plans to pursue a career in poetry and likely would use the money to help pay for a graduate degree.

"I really began taking my poetry seriously my freshman year," he said. "I have a fair amount of poetry I believe that can be sent out into the world."

Vidiani edged out five other students, including four from Maryland: Julia D. Armstrong of Lutherville, Valerie A. Dunn of Westminster, Ariel J. Jicha of North East and Sydney I. Sznajder of Annapolis.

"The other contestants are so wonderful — wonderful people and wonderful writers," Vidiani said.

At the time of her death in 1965, writer Sophie Kerr left money for the college's English department faculty to fund a prize for the graduating senior who, in their judgment, shows the most literary talent and promise. This year the professors reviewed 25 portfolios before selecting the six finalists.

Jehanne Dubrow, a poet who directs the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College, said Vidiani's talent was clear when he enrolled in her introductory creative writing course his freshman year.

"He had an incredible ear for the music of poetry," she said in a statement. "He just needed to learn how to be disciplined about doing the work. Once we talked about how talented he was and where he could take that talent, he became one of our most dedicated students."

Vidiani, Dubrow said, would "revise a poem 100 times or more if needed. He's the finest student poet I've had the pleasure to work with in my seven years here at the college."

Vidiani's prize portfolio contained poems about loss, masculinity, fatherhood and the way people use language to connect with one another, the school said. His work was inspired in part by the poet Nick Flynn, who came to Washington College to read and talk with students in 2012.

Washington College English professor James Hall was Vidiani's adviser for his senior thesis. "Alex has discovered that poetry offers liberating forces for difficult subjects," Hall said.

English department chair Kathryn Moncrief added that the professors found Vidiani's poems to be "beautifully crafted and polished, and tightly edited. ... We could see the book this could become in a few years."

Vidiani is an English major with a minor in creative writing at the Chestertown school. He also served as poetry editor of the student-run literary magazine, The Collegian.

The school said two of his poems will be published soon in respected online publications, Cleaver Magazine and the independent journal Juked. Vidiani said he plans to enroll in the MFA program in poetry at the University of Maryland this fall.

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