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Posted at 11:42 AM ET, 05/17/2012

Howard County woman wins Sophie Kerr Prize — and $58,000


Kathryn Manion accepts the Sophie Kerr Prize. (Kelly Neal-Washington College)
Let’s take a deep breath.

Let’s pause from the hullabaloo over social networking, the big Facebook IPO tomorrow, the big news (in some circles) that Aaron Sorkin (he of “The Social Network” fame) will write the definitive movie about Steve Jobs. Let’s pause from obsessive checking of our Facebook pages. Let’s pause from posting pictures. Let’s pause from tweeting. Let’s look up from our smartphones.

Let us celebrate something innocent and classic: a young writer coming into her own.

Her name is Kathryn Manion. She grew up in Clarksville, in Howard County. She is a senior at Washington College, and when she steps on stage this weekend to graduate she will also be handed a check for $58,274. Kathryn is this year’s winner of the Sophie Kerr Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country, endowed with $500,000 by the prize’s namesake when she died in 1965.

Earlier this week in New York City, when Kathryn stepped on stage to accept the prize, the writer was almost lost for words. Watch for a minute to see what I mean:

How sweet is this young woman? How poised?

Her favorite writers are Jane Austen, Emily Bronte and George Eliot. She is on a Flannery O’Connor kick lately. She writes stories about young adults in unfortunate circumstances. One of the stories she submitted for the award is about a young man pining for a closer relationship with his mother as he wrestles with sexuality.

“There are flashes of brilliance in her ability to create voice keenly appropriate to the story in progress,”says one of her English profs, Bob Mooney. Kathryn Moncrief, chair of the committee awarding the prize, says: “She has a terrific work ethic and is courageous and persistent in taking on difficult subjects. She is always willing to grow and develop as a writer, and her fiction is fun to read, full of wonderful surprises.”

Kathryn always loved writing growing up, even when her friends dreaded being handed yet another writing assignment. Not her. “I very much enjoyed writing papers for school,” she told me. She thinks growing up in Howard County — a fascinating and diverse place that has produced a herd of best-selling writers including Michael Chabon and Laura Lippman — was key in finding her voice.

“The wide range of people I’ve met has really helped,” she said. “It was a good foundation for understanding there is a lot out there. I am fortunate to have a very big back yard to draw from.”

This is her life now — writing. The literary life. This summer, Kathryn is attending the prestigious Denver Publishing Institute, an intense four-week program to train budding editors and publishing executives. She hopes to land a job in the literary world after that while continuing her own writing, and eventually pursuing a master’s in creative writing.

Kathryn is lucky: She has a $58,274 cushion to draw from, putting her somewhere outside the range of being a starving writer. She earned it.

By  |  11:42 AM ET, 05/17/2012

 
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