College of Liberal Arts

2019 Keene Prize Winners

Mon, May 6, 2019
From left: Tracey Rose, Sindya Bhanoo, Raye Hendrix and Hedgie Choi. Photo by Brian Birzer.
From left: Tracey Rose, Sindya Bhanoo, Raye Hendrix and Hedgie Choi. Photo by Brian Birzer.

For her poetry on life and death in the rural South, Raye Hendrix was awarded the $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature at The University of Texas at Austin, the largest literary prize for students in the United States. 

Established in 2006 through an endowment to the College of Liberal Arts by 1942 UT Austin biology alumnus E.L. Keene, the prize is one of the world's largest student literary prizes, awarding $50,000 each year to an undergraduate or graduate student who creates “the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm.”

“Raye’s poetry vividly evokes life and death on a farm in the rural South, in which the speaker confronts not only the violence inherent in the cycle of natural events, like catching, gutting, and eating fish, or slaughtering and bleeding hogs, but the unnatural violence aimed against those who don’t fit in to the cycle of heterosexual pairing and reproduction,” said English department chair Elizabeth Cullingford, announcing the top prize at the Keene awards ceremony in April.

Raye Hendrix

Hendrix, a graduating poet from the New Writers Project in the Department of English, was recognized for her collection of poems, The Epithets of Local Shells. Raye received her BA and MA from Auburn University, and next year she is going to the University of Oregon to do a PhD in Contemporary Poetry with a focus in Queer/Crip Studies. She has published poems in The Tinderbox, Nightjar Review, Glass, Andironack Review, Shenandoah, The Pinch, and Rattle. And since being named a Keene finalist in 2018, The Screen Door Review nominated her for a Pushcart Prize, and the Southern Indiana Review awarded her its Patricia Arkhus Prize.

Three finalists each received $20,000.

2019 Keene Prize finalists


Sindya Bhanoo, a third-year fiction writer in the Michener Center for Writers, was named a Keene finalist for the second year in a row. This year Bhanoo was selected for two short stories that embrace the poetics of family loss and sadness: Malliga Homes Farewell and Dolphin Encounter, which explore the experience of Indian migration to America from alternate perspectives. In Dolphin Encounter, an elderly widow abandoned in a comfortable, but lonely, retirement community tries to put a brave face on her diminished expectations; and, in Malliga Homes Farewell,  her not particularly guilty daughter and granddaughter are busy making a different life in the U.S.

Hedgie Choi, a first-year poet, fiction writer and translator in the Michener Center, also writes from a trans-pacific perspective, the perspective of an exile who is paradoxically at home. She was born in Korea, came to America at the age of seven and returned to Korea at seventeen before pursuing a degree in Information and Interaction Design at Yonsei University in Seoul. Her writing collection includes mostly translations from Korean, and in Customs she has developed her own reckoning with what she calls “national identity angst.” 

Tracey Rose, a second-year fiction writer in the Michener Center, has published stories and novel excerpts in Prairie Schooner, Obsidian, Guernica, Vandal Journal, Elimae and Pank Magazine. Her story, “The Last Days of Rodney,” imagines the psyche of Rodney King, who after the beating spent his settlement money on a large house in Oakland with a swimming pool. Traumatized by the incident that made him famous, King struggled with alcohol and drugs before drowning in that swimming pool at the early age of 47.

Judges of the 2019 Keene Prize included Dave Hamrick, director of the UT Press, Brant Pope, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, and Tom Zigal, a distinguished local writer and novelist.


Photos by Brian Birzer



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