Mr. E. L. Keene, a 1942 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, envisioned a prize that would honor and support the pursuit of great American writing, and through his estate made possible the Keene Prize in Literature.
In establishing this prize, Mr. Keene hoped "to encourage the writing and publishing of good American Literature, to lend financial support to the creators of such literature, and to enhance the prestige and reputation in the world market of American writers both now and in the future." According to Mr. Keene's wishes, the recipient of this prize will be selected from among those who create "the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm."
In addition, the winner will be the student who demonstrates "the greatest artistic merit and narrative mastery of the English language and has shown the greatest promise of becoming a professional writer, as judged by the Scholarship Committee of the College of Liberal Arts."
David Semonchik, a second-year fellow, took the $50,000 grand prize for his stories “Three Houses, “The Bee Story,” “Eau Galle,” and “The Snake Place.” The Keene committee praised David, who previously earned an MA in English from UC Davis, for “writing that is understated and graceful, phrase after phrase.”
Darri Farr, just finishing her first-year, was a finalist for her story “The Devil is a Lie.” Darri hails from Philadelphia and earned a BA in Romance Languages from NYU. The judges felt her Philly-based story fulfilled Mr. Keene’s desire to identify student work that represents “the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm.”
Meg Freitag, a May 2015 graduate of the MCW, was a finalist for her poetry manuscript “Edith.” Meg, a Sarah Lawrence graduate, has published work in Tin House, Narrative, Cumberland River Review, and Smoking Glue Gun, among others. Judges cited her poems for their “wisdom, craft and melancholy wit.”
Jenn Shapland, a Department of English Ph.D. candidate, was a finalist for a piece of nonfiction, “Take the Waters,” chronicling her battles with Austin allergies. Jenn was a finalist for her nonfiction in 2013.