Department of English

Keene Prize for Literature Winner and Finalists

Thu, June 25, 2015
Keene Prize for Literature Winner and Finalists

The Department of English congratulates David Semonchik, a second-year MFA candidate at the Michener Center, on winning the Keene Prize for Literature, as well as finalist Darrow Farr, a current Michener student, finalist Meg Freitag, a Michener Center graduate, and finalist Jenn Shapland, an English PhD candidate.

The Keene Prize for Literature, judged by the Scholarship Commitee of the College of Liberal Arts, is one of the world's largest student literary prizes.  Each year, the commitee awards $50,000 to an undergraduate or graduate student who demonstrates "the greatest artistic merit and narrative mastery of the English language and…show[s] the greatest promise of becoming a professional writer."  Another $50,000 is divided between three finalists of similar promise.


Winner of the Keene Prize for Literature

David Semonchik

David Semonchik is a second-year MFA candidate at the Michener Center. He holds an M.A. in English from the University of California, Davis, and a B.A. from Knox College in Galesburg, IL.

from “The Bee Story”:
One morning he called about some bees that had gotten into the house. “As far as I can tell they’ve set up shop in the dining room,” he said.
“You can’t just shoo them outside?”
“No, I think it’s too late for that.”
“How many are there?” I asked.
“Thousands.” He said it like it was the best thing that had happened to him in a long while. “You’ve got to come see this. Bring Jan, she'll get a kick out of it, too.”
I imagined him, as we spoke, covered in bees, wearing them like a scratchy sweater.
“Are you sure it’s safe?”
“Wait,” he said, “I’ll put them on.”
There was a pause, and then a faint humming on the other end of the line. “You hear that?” my father said. “Those are the ones on the windowsill. Now come over in half an hour, I’ll make sandwiches.”


Finalists of the Keene Prize for Literature

Darrow Farr

Darrow Farr is from Philadelphia and is pursuing an MFA in fiction at the Michener Center.

from "The Devil is a Lie":
The water was cold and silky from the oils, and she sunk deeper until it passed over her face, through her hair, and into the humid, itchy crevices beneath her cast. Deirdre listened to the muffled bass of her heartbeat underwater. The grandmother gently pulled her to the surface and began to rub the herbed water into her neck while the aunt took Deirdre’s arm. They whispered their occult language as they ran their hands over her legs, shoulders, and stomach. Their hands were strong and smooth, like river stones, and thrumming with energy. Deirdre gasped for air. The touch of skin on her skin shocked her. She could feel the women’s warmth and holiness absorb into her bones, and the fear that coiled around her muscles was pulled out through her pores. She could feel it unwinding, she could breathe, she could cry.

Meg Freitag

Meg Freitag was born in Maine and currently lives in Austin, Texas. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MFA from UT's Michener Center for Writers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Narrative Magazine, Day One, Indiana Review, and Boston Review, among others.

from “Ghost of the Lowbush”
When time reclaims a landscape, it takes
With it all evidence that something once lived
There. I remember the blueberry fields
Blackening, a black dog running toward me
With a bird’s heart in her mouth. I remember
Mosquitoes biting me through my jeans, my watch
Stopping just before midnight. The night
Edith died I felt like one of those ghosts 

Jenn Shapland

Jenn Shapland is a nonfiction writer and PhD candidate in English. Her scholarly work has been published in Contemporary Women's Writing and her nonfiction appears or is forthcoming in Tin House Magazine, NANO Fiction, The Millions, and elsewhere. Her essay "Finders, Keepers" was a Keene Prize finalist in 2013.

from "Take the Waters":
The very first thing I do is take a dip in the hilltop pool, which used to be a cabin and is now flooded with 22,000 year-old water. Water that has never emerged from the ground to be recharged, that is surfacing for the first time as I float in it. I float beside Tony, who has been living in the pool all day, says Mattie. We are the only people out here—the springs still require a pilgrimage and only a few of us have chosen to make it. Later in the evening we’ll be joined by John, a living, breathing, swearing cowboy who’s been out on the range for twenty-five days and needed to sleep in a bed. Of the water out here, which I find after a few increasingly happy hours is chock full of lithium, John says it saved his life. "If it wasn’t for that water, me and Charlie woulda shot each other," he told me.
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