Grad whips depression, wins $23,209 writing prize

May 23, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

CHESTERTOWN -- Six years ago Tanya Angell Allen's parents were beside themselves with worry. Their daughter was experiencing emotional problems, and they had decided to place her in a mental institution.

Yesterday they were beside themselves again. But this time the Allens of Trumbull, Conn., were overjoyed.

Their daughter, who was hospitalized for several months before finishing high school, had just been named winner of Washington College's prestigious Sophie Kerr Prize for literary promise.

The tax-free, $23,209 cash prize, part of an endowment left to the school by the late writer and Eastern Shore native Sophie Kerr, is believed to be the largest undergraduate award in the country.

"It's one of those amazing stories," Dick Allen, a poet, said of his daughter.

"She's gone through a severe depression and a near nervous breakdown to this prize."

Ms. Allen, 23, an English major, writes poetry, fiction and, while an undergraduate, dabbled in satire aimed at the school administration. She also formed a group called YAWP, or Young Aggressive Writers and Poets.

"One of the things I'm committed to is to bring poetry to everybody," said Ms. Allen. "I hope to see a new golden age of poetry. I think it's started. I hope it's not just a fad."

She was surprised to hear her name announced at yesterday's graduation ceremony as the prizewinner -- she thought the recipient was to have been told the night before.

"I didn't get a call, so I was convinced I didn't get it," she said.

First awarded in 1968, the Sophie Kerr Prize has become an increasingly sought-after honor. In recent years, the winner's name has been kept secret until it is announced somewhat routinely with other college awards.

As the prize and the college's writing program become better known, the quality of literary-minded students improves, said Bob Day, head of the creative writing program. This year, the writings of 13 seniors were considered before the Sophie Kerr committee settled on Ms. Allen, he said.

Choosing a winner is difficult but rewarding, said Bennett Lamond, chairman of the English department and head of the committee. "It's tough, but it's also beautiful. You're dealing with the finest work of some of the finest students."

In addition to the Sophie Kerr Prize, Ms. Allen was honored yesterday for holding the highest grade-point average in English.

She plans to study for a master's degreein creative writing at Miami University in Ohio and hopes one day to teach literature at the college level.

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