Writing graduate student receives Keene Prize for Literature

Hayden Clark

Writing graduate student Mark Hitz received the Keene Prize for Literature from the College of Liberal Arts on Monday for his short stories “Shadehill” and “The Laws of Motion.” 

“Uncertainty is just always in the air,” Hitz said. “So an award like this is both a shock and a profound honor. It’s hard to feel like you deserve something so wildly generous.” 

The Keene Prize is awarded to a UT student each year. As this year’s winner, Hitz will be awarded $50,000. Four other finalists will equally share a separate $50,000 prize. Hitz said he will use the majority of the prize money for future writing projects.

“I wish I had some magical plans for the money, but really I’ll be using it mostly for the activities of writing-, research, travel and time,” Hitz said. “Also, probably, to buy drinks.” 

English professor Elizabeth Cullingford, who served as one of the judges, said creativity is a major factor the judges evaluate in selecting the finalists.

“The judges are looking for works that capture their imaginations, usually by a combination of original subject matter or a new perspective on familiar subject matter with skillful literary technique,” Cullingford said. 

Along with Hitz, the other four finalists are all writing graduate students in the James A. Michener Center for Writers. Finalist Rachel Kondo said she was surprised to hear that she was a finalist for the award because she is new to writing. 

“The news was shocking and a little bit confusing even,” Kondo said. “You know when you write something it’s such a private endeavor and even when you submit it to somebody, I didn’t have a consciousness that somebody else is taking this work in. It’s a strange scenario. I have read a lot since I was a child, but I had come to writing fairly late. I haven’t been writing all that long, to be honest.” 

Kondo said she is honored to share the prize winnings with her peers Alen Hamza and Corey Miller. 

“[Hitz] is a phenomenal voice, a phenomenal talent, and I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be luckier to be in his cohort,” Kondo said. “[Hamza] and [Miller] are third years in my program, so I’ve had the privilege of being in class with them. To me, these are the voices of the next generation. These men are so sharp and so bright, it’s painful to think about. I couldn’t be more honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as them.” 

Miller said he plans to continue work on his poetry manuscript “Onyxed Eden” and enter in other poetry competitions. 

“I’m going to start sending it out to poetry contests,” Miller said. “There are no agents, really, in poetry, so the beginning feels a little too much like a constant competition for my liking.”