Ward Pize honors Midd writers

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Sara Black

Associate Professor of English Kathleen Skubikowski’s voice called out from the podium, climbing through the clouds of hope and anticipation that filled the air above the anxious crowd, “Every year faculty watch for outstanding writing by first-year students in every course they teach…”

Oct. 12 marked the presentation of the 29th annual Paul Ward ’25 Memorial Prize for outstanding writers from the Class of 2010. All first-year work, either from seminars or other classes, is eligible for submission. From a field of 44 nominees, the largest in the prize’s history, Emma Cline’s ’10 short story “What is Lost” took top honors, followed by essays from runner-ups Beth Connolly ’10 and Halley Ostergard ’10.

“Her story was amazing,” Connolly said. “I was totally knocked out. It was so powerful.”

The Ward Prize was not the first accolade Cline has received for her prolific prose. Her stories have been published in Tin House, a Portland-based literary magazine, and Cline’s professor, David Bain, has said that she is on the “fast-track” to becoming a writer.

After graduating from high school at the age of 16, Cline took a year off before coming to college. During her hiatus she worked on a farm as a freelance reporter and took lessons to obtain her pilot’s license. Cline’s talents provide her with infinite possibilities, within and outside the realm of traditional schooling.

“I’m taking time off next semester and don’t know if I’ll return to college at all,” Cline said. “If I were to return to college, I’d be interested in studying architecture, bioregionalism, landscape and narrative and the West.”

Presently immersed in the prose and poems of such writers as Stephen Millhauser, John McPhee and Leonard Cohen, Cline draws from her own experiences as well as the ideas and experiences of others. In addition to working on a piece with professor Don Mitchell, lecturer in the English Department and Program in Film and Media Culture, about her travels this past summer, Cline is also training to be a writing tutor.

“I’m just now getting into the possibilities of creative nonfiction,” Cline said. “I went to Burning Man this summer and am working on an essay about that.”

Nominations for the Ward Prize come from all departments throughout the school year and are then deliberated over in the summer months, before a decision is finally reached in September. This year’s selection committee was comprised of Professor of Political Science Alison Stanger, Assistant Professor of Biology Catherine Combelles and Lecturer and Tutor in Writing Barbara Ganley.

“It’s fun reading 35-45 A papers one after another,” Skubikowski said. “You learn so much, and they are all so engaging. But you do, sometimes, find yourself trying to compare fabulous apples with fabulous oranges, and that can be work.”

The Prize was first ensconced in Middlebury tradition in 1978 when Ward’s widow, Dorothy Cate Ward ’28, offered the idea and funding for the prize as a way to commemorate Ward’s life. A renowned journalist and diplomatic reporter, Ward was honored by the French Legion and even received a Pulitzer Prize for his series on postwar Russia.

Visiting Assistant Professor of English and American Literature James Berg, a member of last year’s selection committee, outlined the qualities found in a standout paper.

“The writing that stands out in terms of argument and content usually has great stylistic potential as well,” Berg said. “I think Cicero said that the virtue of eloquence can only emerge in one who has taken possession of the subject matter.”

When Skubikowski took over direction of the Writing Program in 1989, the prize was a paltry affair, largely confined to the English Department. The winning student, who received two checks for $100 each, usually had little or no idea that he or she had been nominated. Unsatisfied with the state of events, Skubikowski took it upon herself to make some changes.

“I decided we needed to make the whole process more visible and have it reflect the commitment Middlebury has made to teaching writing across the whole curriculum,” Skubikowski said.

After securing a larger donation from the Ward/Meehan family, Skubikowski was able to hold a more fitting ceremony with substantial prizes. By moving the event to Fall Family Weekend, the families and friends of the nominees are now able to attend the occasion.

“It’s a surprising honor, because coming in as a freshman you have no idea about this [prize],” Sarah Bray ’08, a past winner, said. “I had to look on the website to figure out what it was.”

Bray, an international studies major and Virginia Woolf fan, cites the Ward Prize as a subconscious turning point in her academic career.

“It’s a prestigious award coming from a school like this with such a strong writing background,” Bray said. “I think, for me, it really opened my horizons. I came to Middlebury thinking I wanted to be an art historian and I’m leaving thinking I want to be a writer.”

Based on the successes of recent years, the Ward Prize seems to be a barometer of success among young writers. For her part, Cline is poised to take her rightful place among the ranks of those past winners, and even Ward himself.

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