Portland State’s English department hosted its 51st annual awards ceremony, giving accolades and cash prizes to both undergraduate and graduate students for collegiate writing. Twenty-one students were honored for their contributions to poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and academic writing.
Awards are named after noteworthy faculty from PSU’s past.
English department Chair Paul Collins spoke about the department’s history leading up to this year’s ceremony.
“Perhaps it is right…that a large urban university has an event, once each year, when the past and the present of the English department can be joined,” he said. “The present year has been an eventful one.”
The English department at PSU has seen some major overhauls in staffing this year as well as new programs added to the major.
“We saw the launch of a new comic studies certificate, the arrival of our new colleague Josh Epstein,” Collins said. We’re about to see the launch of our film studies…an online film journal…Fittingly the first issue will look at local filmmaker Gus Van Zant. We saw one of our past in-house authors win a Pulitzer this year.”
Mike Davis, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, was the guest speaker at this year’s ceremony. His lecture, entitled “Writing as Rioting,” which was supposed to address his work, ended up covering little of its original subject matter.
“I was taking some kind of hallucinogen, or maybe the wrong kind of medication, when I came up with the title for my speech,” Davis said. “I’m not really going to talk about hot rod apocalypses, or whatever [the event page] says.”
Davis’ speech centered on his travels through Western Central America, focusing on history during and after World War II.
Prize winner Cassia Gamill was the recipient of the Marilyn Folkestad Graduate Scholarship, an award given to graduate students returning to higher education to study literature after a break.
“I submit every year,” Gamill said.
Beyond providing writers monetary compensation for their exceptional work, the Kellogg Awards aim to reinforce writers’ drive to continue working.
“It feels important to me because it gives me encouragement to keep going with my writing,” Gamill said. “When I know someone has read my work and sees promise in it, that makes me feel like I should keep writing and that other people might want to read it as well.”
The annual event is also a means to bring together disparate departments in the English program.
“I know [to] all of my friends in the English department, in all the various programs, like the [Master of Fine Arts], and the [Master of Arts], and the publishing department, the fact that this evening represents all the various strands of the department is very exciting, and I know that everyone looks forward to coming and cheering on their colleagues, and celebrating them, because our students do really good work,” Gamill said.