- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

CHESTERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Marshall Shord Jr. said he was “genuinely surprised” at his graduation ceremony yesterday when Washington College officials announced he had won one of the largest undergraduate literary prizes in the world.

His father, Marshall Shord Sr., said he was “totally surprised,” but his mother was a true believer.

“I knew it in my heart, even though he didn’t believe me,” Kathi Shord said. “I know my son, I know his capabilities and how hard he’s worked. And I just knew it would pay off for him.”

Mr. Shord, 21, was presented a check for $55,907 as this year’s winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize, awarded annually to the graduating senior who shows the most ability and potential for literary success.

Officials at the 224-year-old liberal arts college on Maryland’s Eastern Shore describe the prize as one of the largest literary awards in the world.

Washington College has given more than $1 million in prize money since the award, subject to federal and state taxes, was first presented in 1968, varying from $9,000 to $65,000. It is named for Sophie Kerr, a native of the Eastern Shore who used the region as the backdrop for most of her writing. She wrote 23 novels and more than 100 stories and left about $500,000 to the college when she died in 1965.

In her will, Mrs. Kerr specifically stipulated that half of the endowment’s income be awarded annually to the senior showing the most “promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor.”

The other half, $50,000 to $70,000, goes to the college to buy books for its libraries, support writing workshops, scholarships and student literary magazines, and pay for speeches by visiting scholars and writers.

Previous winners of the award have become creative writing professors, editors and published authors, but none has become a literary superstar. Angela Haley, the 2004 winner, gained notoriety when she was arrested on drug-possession charges.

Mr. Shord’s winning entry included a portfolio of poetry and fiction, but the prize committee was especially taken with his senior thesis on novelist Thomas Pynchon.

“Intellectually, the quality and fluency of the writing — I plan to make a copy of his introduction and show it to students for years and years, as an example of a first-class piece of writing,” said Thomas Cousineau, Mr. Shord’s adviser.

Mr. Shord said he plans to attend graduate school and pursue a doctorate degree in English but first will take an “academic vacation” and a trip to Europe.

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