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Playwright takes home 2008 Keene Prize

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George Brant, winner of the 2008 Keene Prize for Literature

George Brant, a recent graduate of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the 2008 Keene Prize for Literature, a donor-funded student literary prize that is among the world’s largest. Brant will receive $50,000. An additional $50,000 will be divided among three finalists.

Brant’s play “Elephant’s Graveyard” was chosen out of 51 submissions in drama, poetry and fiction. In addition to the Keene Prize, it earned the 2008 David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award from the Kennedy Center. Produced at the University last fall, it was honored as Best New Play by the Austin Critics’ Table.

“‘Elephant’s Graveyard’ is an original and imaginative drama,” says Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and also chair of the award selection committee. “Brant uses the true story of Mary, a circus elephant who killed a handler and was executed by hanging, to create a portrait of small-town Tennessee life in 1916. Brant transforms a grotesque historical incident into a moving and metaphorically resonant narrative.”

Established in 2006 in the College of Liberal Arts, the Keene Prize is named after E.L. Keene, a 1942 UT graduate who envisioned an award that would enhance and enrich the University’s prestige and reputation in the international market of American writers.

The competition is open to all University of Texas undergraduate and graduate students, and the prize is awarded annually to the student who creates the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm. Students submit poetry, plays and fiction or non-fiction prose.

In addition to Brant, the three finalists are:

  • Smith Henderson, master of fine arts candidate at the Michener Center, for his short stories “Number Stations” and “Muscles.” The committee singled out Henderson’s stories, which are set in his native Montana, for their combination of wry humor, rich detail, convincingly terse dialogue, and emotional depth.
  • Domenica Ruta, a recent graduate of the Michener Center, for the opening chapters of her novel “Edgewater.” The committee praised the novel’s large cast of idiosyncratic characters and artful interweaving of scenes, which gradually create the back story of a mysterious murder.
  • Sarah Smith, master of fine arts candidate at the Michener Center, for three stories: “The Wild Girl of Western Pennsylvania,” “The Bigtime” and “Night Shift at the Don Knotts Memorial Hospital.” The committee commended Smith’s quirky, poetic voice, and her sharp powers of observation and comic inventiveness, which create intriguing characters.

Joining Cullingford on the 2008 selection committee were Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Robert Schmidt, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance; Joanna Hitchcock, director of the University of Texas Press; and resident author Tom Zigal, speechwriter for President William Powers Jr.

Learn more about the Keene Prize for Literature.

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