Sophie Kerr Week evaluates legacy of famous writer and College figure

By Grace Apostol and Sophie Foster

News Co-Editors

            In a collaborative effort between the Center for Career Development and the Department of English, Washington College held a week devoted to literary careers in honor of Sophie Kerr, writer and originator of the College’s Sophie Kerr Award.

            A significant figure in WC history, Kerr was a writer from the Eastern Shore whose endowment established in her will “inspired and supported [WC’s] national reputation for programs and events in literature and writing.”

            There were three events of note in this programming: the “Writers and Publishing Alumnae Career Panel” on Tuesday, Feb. 7, a talk regarding Sophie Kerr’s archives and manuscripts from Brooke Schultz ’18 on Wednesday, Feb. 8, and “The Future of Publishing” with CEO of Veranda Magazine Katie Brockman on Thursday, Feb. 9.

            The guest alumni featured on Tuesday’s panel were producer Leslie Collins ’19, journalistic editor Kim Last ’07, editor Emma Way ’16, and employment law reporter Abby Wargo ’20.

            Moderated by Associate Professor of English Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor and Assistant Professor of English Sufiya Abdur-Rahman, the panel invited the highlighted alumni to speak on their experiences working in writing spaces fresh out of College, and to tie those experiences to the lifestyle of Kerr.

All of these events interwoven served as “a week to honor the life and accomplishments of Sophie Kerr that isn’t just focused on our wonderful writing which we highlight every year in May,” Dr. O’Connor said.

According to Dr. O’Connor, it is important that members of the broader campus community develop an understanding of Sophie Kerr’s work as a novelist, editor, and journalist.

            According to Abdur-Rahman, the legacy of Sophie Kerr is particularly relevant because “women have made some significant strides in journalism in recent years” and “it’s really valuable that we hear those kinds of perspectives.”

            The second day of the Sophie Kerr Series, Tuesday, Feb. 8, writer and reporter Brooke Shultz ‘18, gave a talk on Sophie Kerr in the Litrenta Lecture Hall from 4:30p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Acting Chair for Spring 2023 and Associate Professor of English and Director of the Gender Studies Program Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor introduced Shultz to the WC Community and Chestertown resident attendees.

“We are very excited for the second day of our collaboration with the Career Center,” Dr. O’Connor said. “We are all thrilled that 2018 Alumni Brooke Schultz is here to talk to us about Sophie Kerr.”

Shultz’s Senior Capstone Experience’s subject was Kerr herself, which she mentioned within the beginning of her talk.

“Kerr’s life stretched through decades of turbulent social change involving women’s rights and [her life] ended as the movement picked up incredible speed,” Schultz said.

Throughout her talk, Schultz compared her own timeline of her career as a writer to that of Kerr’s, showcasing two women writers decades apart.

“100 years later [after Kerr published her first book] I was having a busy summer,” Schultz said. “I started my internship at the Kent County News and I point to this because journalism and this research really are tightly woven to me.”

Much of the research uncovered about Kerr was done by Schultz herself. According to Dr. O’Connor, about “75 percent” of the research found on Kerr was done by Schultz. “I said I was going to do that presentation [on Kerr], and I googled her and there was nothing,” Schultz said.

According to Dr. O’Connor Schultz was an English major, Creative Writing Minor, the Editor and Chief of the Elm and won the Bennett Lamond Prize for her SCE.

Shultz also discussed the impact Kerr has left on WC and the Sophie Kerr Prize, awarded to one undergraduate senior each year. The prize is named after the writer due to her large contribution to the College.

“Kerr named WC the principal beneficiary of her will,” she said. “She left half a million dollars. So, a portion of that is aimed at the future of graduates…It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

After she finished her talk, Shultz opened the conversation up to questions from audience members, who asked her about her time at WC, her relationship with Kerr as a writer, as well as her experience as a writer post undergraduate.

“I think seeing her in her own words is cool,” Schultz said regarding Kerr. “Seeing the level of editing and drafts…and how much she worked on things… seeing how meticulous she was.”

Following the event, there was a reception catered by WC dining in the Atrium.

The final event in the week’s series, “The Future of Publishing,” hosted Brockman via Zoom for an hour-long discussion regarding the publishing world looking forward.

Brockman, who was a publisher before assuming her present position as CEO of Veranda Magazine, outlined notions of business, development, and innovation. According to Brockman, there is space for expansion and growth in the publishing world under contemporary constraints.

This Kerr-centered week precedes the process of determining the winner of the College’s 2023 Sophie Kerr Award, which honors student writers graduating from WC and is the largest undergraduate literary prize in the country. Students considering submitting for the award can learn more on the College’s website.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo Caption: Sophie Kerr is a notable figure on the Washington College campus.

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