Poet from Reisterstown wins $77,000 Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College

CHESTERTOWN — From one Sophie to another.

That’s what Washington College President Mike Sosulski  said on Friday night when announcing that poet Sophie Foster of Reisterstown had won the Sophie Kerr Prize as the graduating senior deemed to have demonstrated the best potential for future achievement in a literary endeavor.

Foster won out over four other finalists, all from Maryland.

The Sophie Kerr Prize is the nation’s largest literary award for a college student.

This year it is valued at just over $77,000.

According to a news release that the college sent out Friday shortly after the prize winner was announced, Foster’s work largely tends to personal internality and inclinations toward the natural world.

She read two poems at the ceremony in the Hotchkiss Recital Hall of the Gibson Center for the Arts.

Foster was taken aback when she was announced as the winner.

In thanking the English Department and the college for the honor and recognition, she said she came to Washington College feeling disillusioned by literary spaces that she felt were “elitist and exclusionary and restrictive.”

She went on to praise the college and her fellow finalists for creating a supportive environment that she lovingly enjoyed over the last four years.

“It has been the honor of my life to come here and be among the impossibly rare community I’ve been granted here,” Foster said.

Her portfolio submission was a collection of poetry, fiction and nonfiction — all themed around the notion of liminality.

“I think a lot of the major moments in our lives are fractured, brief and fleeting. A lot of what we remember are moments that happen by circumstance,” Foster said.

Her writings, she noted, “navigate the emotionality of brevity.”

“In reading her work, the committee agreed, we kept wanting more,” said Courtney Rydel, associate professor of English and chair of the department. “Sophie’s writing is lyric and beautiful and fluid, expressing complex emotions by allowing her readers to connect with her narrative on a personal level.”

James Hall, director of the Washington College Rose O’Neill Literary House and associate professor of English and creative writing, said that reading Foster’s portfolio felt like more like reading a book.

“Time and space dissolved, and I was completely captivated by this voice,” Hall said. “Through lyrical prose and sharp-witted poetry set as close as Baltimore and as far as Britain, Sophie captured my whole heart. Her style is marked by sophisticated syncopation, lyrical control, verbal pyrotechnics, and — despite her young age — a wisdom that we will all do well to study. This is big-hearted, hard-thinking Literature with a capital L.”

Lauded by her professors as one of the strongest editors and literary citizens at Washington College, Foster has been praised for her consistent encouragement and support of her fellow writers.

An English major minoring in creative writing and journalism, editing and publishing, Foster has been editor-in-chief of the college’s literary magazine, president of the on-campus Writers’ Union and opinion editor of the school newspaper The Elm.

According to the news release, Foster will tentatively begin a Master of Fine Arts program in poetry at the University of Massachusetts in Boston next year.

In the longer term, she hopes to pursue a career in publishing.

The other finalists were Liv Barry of Dundalk, Dante Chavez of Baltimore, Vivienne “Vee” Sharp of Westminster and Joshua Torrence of Parkville.

They all read from their work, following an address from 2003 Sophie Kerr Prize winner Laura Maylene Walter.

Walter, who currently is the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow at Cleveland Public Library, noted the unique nature of the prize and the impactful base it laid for her life in writing.

“There’s really nothing like the Sophie Kerr Prize in the literary world,” she said. “The Sophie Kerr Prize is a prize for promise, for the work that still lies in your future, for what you may one day be capable of.”

In announcing the winner, college President Sosulski noted how “humbled and awed” he was to be among such brilliance and congratulated the finalists and thanked them for “so much beauty.”

Since its first year in 1968, the Sophie Kerr Prize has been awarded for both creative and critical writing.

Students within all majors may submit portfolios.

A committee, comprised of full-time faculty in the English Department and the college president, reviews all submissions and makes the final decision.

The prize is named for Eastern Shore native and college benefactor Sophie Kerr.

As stipulated by Kerr’s will, the prize check itself will be awarded Sunday, May 19 as part of the college’s 241st commencement.

GRAMMY-winning musician and well-known radio host Christian McBride will address the graduates and receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

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