World's Largest Student Literary Prize Awarded to Graduate Student

AUSTIN, Texas—Will Dunlap, a first-year graduate student in the James. A. Michener Center for Writers at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the 2007 Keene Prize for Literature, the world’s largest student literary prize. This is the second year the $90,000 award has been given by the College of Liberal Arts.

Will Dunlap
Will Dunlap

Dunlap’s two short stories were chosen out of 62 submissions. The quirky, mysterious and original “Pastoral Sonata” vividly evokes an old woman who mourns her drowned husband through a bizarre charade of blindness, and imagines his spirit lives on in her pet goldfish. “Devotion” impressively recreates 19th-century prose style in the narrator’s journal entries.

“I’ve met so many talented writers here, to be singled out is a shock and an honor,” Dunlap said. “Being an artist of any kind is about fighting with everyday insecurities. Winning this prize relieves many of these worries and gives me the time and the confidence to just write what I want for awhile.”

The Keene Prize is named after E.L. Keene, a 1942 graduate of the university, who envisioned an award that would enhance and enrich the university’s prestige and reputation in the world market of American writers. The competition is open to all university undergraduate and graduate students, and the prize will be awarded annually to the student who creates the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm. Students submit poetry, plays and fiction or non-fiction prose.

“Dunlap’s writing has great emotional sensitivity and power,” said Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the English Department and a member of the selection committee. “The complexity of the characterization is remarkable; only gradually does the reader realize that the narrator of ‘Devotion’ is unreliable and capable of self-deception.”

In addition to Dunlap, the finalists were:

  • Smith Henderson, master of fine arts candidate with the Michener Center, for his short stories “Twelver” and “Blooms.” Henderson’s work was singled out for its command of poetic and colloquial language, ingenious mathematical structure and effective use of repeated images.
  • Kevin Jones, master of fine arts candidate with the Michener Center, for his three short stories in “North American Male.” The committee praised the energy of Jones’ narrative voice, his vivid humor and assured use of dialogue.
  • Kate Hagner, who earned a master’s degree in creative writing (’07), for “Pear (and other stories).” Hagner’s stories of obsession and metamorphosis are remarkable for their imaginative language, which vividly evokes colors, shapes and textures, the committee said.

Members of the 2007 selection committee included: Cullingford; Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Robert Schmidt, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance; Joanna Hitchcock, director of UT Press; and resident author Tom Zigal, speechwriter to President William Powers Jr.

Get more information about the Keene Prize for Literature.

For more information contact: Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair, Department of English, 512-471-4991; Jennifer McAndrew, public affairs specialist, College of Liberal Arts, 512-232-4730.