A female graduate student collaborates over a laptop with a male graduate student.

Celebrating Excellence

The English Department holds two peer writing contests every year to recognize and celebrate the important accomplishments of our graduate students. The Peer Essay contest invites submissions from current graduate students every Spring semester. The Peer Dissertation Award recognizes the best dissertation deposited in the previous academic year. For both awards, a faculty committee carefully reviews each submission and awards a first place winner and honorable mention(s). Essays, however, are not always written by single authors and collaborative works have been awarded in previous years. 


Peer Essay Award

Made possible by generous donors, the Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Essay Award is awarded annually to two essays written by graduate students. Successful essays include a research component and run 15-25 pages in length. While revised seminar papers and dissertation chapters are welcomed, published or "in press" works should not be submitted. 

For 2021, the first prize went to Hollis Druhet for his essay, “On Blackness and Indigeneity, or the Shape that Freedom Might Take: A Field Survey and Paired Reading of CITIZEN and WHEREAS.”

Honorable Mention was awarded to Helen Makhdoumian for her essay, “We are Here: Witnesses to Disappearing History and Writing against Erasure.”

For winners of previous years, please see below.


Peer Dissertation Award

The Peer Dissertation Award annually recognizes two dissertations (a first place and an honorable mention) deposited in the previous year by graduate students in English.

In 2018, the first prize went to Christine Hedlin for her dissertation, "Novel Faiths: Nonsecular Fiction in the Late-Nineteenth-Century US." The committee lauded Hedlin's dissertation as a compelling intervention in the ongoing effort to complicate well-worn critical narratives of secularization, both in US history and in the history of the novel, revealing the affective and ideological power of underexamined religious fiction in US culture circa 1860-1905. As one committee member praised it, "this project did an outstanding job of using a particular take on religious history (close attention to postbellum resistance to secularization, and the rise of new or marginalized religions) to analyze an interesting archive (postbellum religious fiction) to come up with a new aesthetic theory (the formal qualities of the novel -- focalization, layering, dialogism -- were crucial to working through the era's fraught experience of religious doubt). Best of all, it's rhetorically framed as a revision or critique of current assumptions about the declining importance of religion in postbellum America."

Honorable mention went to Brandon Jones for his dissertation, "Uncommon Work: Utopia, Labor, and Environment in Late-Century American Fiction." The committee was impressed by Jones's dissertation, praising, in the words of one of the committee members, how he approached the "the overwhelming prevalence of apocalyptic environmental discourse, and its widely-noted political liabilities (it tends to freeze its readers in a posture of despair, rather than engaging them in an activist reform project). In foregrounding a minority tradition of critical 'eco-georgic' writing, Jones calls attention to a further liability of current environmental discourse: its tendency to pit workers who need jobs against ecological desire to limit excessive economic expansion. It thus convincingly aligns a political problem with an aesthetic form, and suggests that this tension might be negotiated by a turn to a new set of literary works.”