- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

Sarah Blackman, 22, a graduating senior at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., earned one of the biggest literary awards a student writer could receive: the Sophie Kerr Prize.
The prize, which tops $65,500 this year, is given annually to the Eastern Shore school's undergraduate who demonstrates the most talent in writing.
"I'm in shock," Miss Blackman said after the announcement yesterday at the school's 220th commencement. "I'm very happy about it."
This year's prize is the largest ever awarded by the small, liberal arts school, officials said. Last year's award was $62,000.
"Some people call it obscene," said college spokesman John Buettner. "They think it's ridiculous that an undergraduate who has never published any writing gets this award."
But that was exactly what Sophie Kerr wanted.
Miss Kerr, who used the Eastern Shore as the backdrop to her writing, wrote more than 100 stories and 23 novels. Many appeared in most of the popular American magazines of the first half of the 20th century, including the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Saturday Review of Literature, McCall's and Newsweek.
Miss Kerr, who left the bulk of her estate to the college, asked in her will that half of the income from her bequest be awarded annually to the senior showing the most "promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor."
In the 34 years the prize has been awarded, its worth has varied from $9,000 to this year's record amount.
Out of the 27 writers who submitted lengthy portfolios that included poetry, short stories and nonfiction, Miss Blackman excelled not just in the beauty of her work, but in her mastery of each genre, said professor Robert Mooney, director of the creative-writing program.
"She doesn't write like a 21-year-old," Mr. Mooney said. "She has mastered the craft. She's a terrific scholar. Her papers are top-notch."
Her prose, he added, was "fluid, rhythmic, and on the mark."
Miss Blackman began writing before she could hold a pen straight, said her mother, Melinda Zeder.
"She always had stories in her head ever since she was a little child," Mrs. Zeder said. "She would come down to my study and tell me stories and I would type them for her."
Miss Blackman was so ambitious that in the first grade she dictated an eight-chapter novel to her mother.
Her mother, who typed the story, treasured the piece, calling it one of her daughter's "early works."
Miss Blackman, who humbly calls her writing "competent," said she will use the money to pay off $12,000 in student loans and apply to a master's program in creative writing.
For now, she said, she is moving to Los Angeles to be in what she calls a "thriving literary industry."
"There's so much screenwriting that goes on there," she said. "There's a lot of opportunity for people to write."
Miss Blackman said she will start by teaching creative writing to marginalized youths, prisoners and students in adult literacy programs.
"Writing is a community activity," she said.


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