In print or online, her words earn prize

The Baltimore Sun

CHESTERTOWN -- A 22-year-old poet from Towson - who can't decide whether she'll keep blogging on the Internet or printing her work with an antique hand letterpress - walked away from her Washington College graduation yesterday clutching a check for more than $67,000. A portfolio of poems, critical essays and writings for her blog won Emma Sovich the richest undergraduate writing award in the nation, the Sophie Kerr Prize. This year's award was the largest in the history of the prize, officials said.

Sovich, a soft-spoken writer with wire-rim glasses, found herself the center of attention, swooped away for nearly two hours of news interviews and photographs as family members and fellow student writers tried to get a word with the stunned graduate.

"I want to start my blog going again now that there's some time," said Sovich, who posts musings about life and writing at thecomposingstick.blogspot .com. "But I've always loved the smell when you open a new book. And printing is a very tactile experience."

The Towson High alumna, who beat 17 other Washington College seniors who submitted work to a faculty committee, said the school's writing program was the lure that brought her to the lush Eastern Shore campus four years ago.

"I knew even before my freshman year that I'd be submitting work eventually, but I didn't expect that this would happen to me," said Sovich, who added that she enjoys working with pen and paper as much as a computer keyboard.

It was the diversity of her writing modes that intrigued judges, who said it was the first time in the history of the award that they had recognized an author who produced a blog.

Sovich's parents weren't surprised at her choice, said her father, Randy, a Towson architect.

"When she was in sixth or seventh grade, there was an assignment where she was asked where she'd be in 20 years," he said. "She wrote that she would be writing and illustrating children's books."

The Kerr prize, now in its 40th year, annually draws publicity for the small liberal arts school. Over the years, the college has awarded more than $1 million, in amounts ranging from $9,000 to this year's top prize of $67,000.

A successful writer in the 1930s and 1940s, Sophie Kerr died in 1965 and left the college $500,000.

Joshua Shenk, who runs the Rose O'Neill Literary House, said Sovich's writing often surpassed work he would expect to see from graduate students.

"She's an extraordinary poet, dazzling in the range of her work," Shenk said. "She's in technology all the way back to Gutenberg to the newest technology with the Internet."

A December blog post describing a snowy day spotlights Sovich's talent: "The snow calmed the landscape and softened the edges of even the ugliest buildings on campus. When I reached the Literary House, the snow was already bearing down on the black roof, muting the pitch of it to the same grays and whites that already belonged to the trees."

Sovich said she had no immediate plans, except to take a year off before graduate school.

She sat thorough occasional drizzle yesterday, with 223 fellow graduates, at the college's 225th commencement.

Speakers included Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities; David Simon, author and television writer-producer; and singer-songwriter Patti Griffin.

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