Washington Signature
[ Search and Navigation ]   [ View Full Site ]

The Rose O'Neill

Literary House

Meet the 2020 Sophie Kerr Finalists!

Date: May 12, 2020
To help get to know the six Sophie Kerr Finalists of 2020, we asked them to answer four questions. Click on the links below each finalist’s answers to read samples from their portfolios!
  1. What was the book from your childhood that has influenced you the most?
  2. Of all the texts you have studied at Washington College, which has had the most powerful impact on you?
  3. Who are your literary or intellectual influences?
  4. What are your plans for after graduation?

Kailani ClarkeKailani Clarke

I’d say the book that influenced me most as a child is The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Lord of the Rings by extension, by J.R.R. Tolkien. We were lived on a 45-foot sailboat for most of my adolescence, and our entertainment was limited to books and movies. We would curl up in the main cabin at the end of the day, and my mom would read aloud the next chapter of the trilogy. I was about nine at the time. I return to them at least once a year. The high diction, sweeping storylines, and themes of friendship and love conquering evil have subtly filtered into my creative process. I draw a lot of power from Aragorn’s story. Seeking a career in the environmental field has seen my hope falter in the face of the climate crisis, and humanity’s general failure to address it. Aragorn, the ranger, the walker of the wild, led his people through the war with Sauron and emerged victorious, despite desperate odds. His Elvish nickname, Estel, means hope. When I lose faith in the world, I think of him, and it helps.

My most influential college text was Sacred Ecology by Fikret Berkes, which I read  Dr. Aaron Lampman’s Traditional Ecological Knowledge class, an anthropology course. This book detailed the cultural knowledge of numerous North American indigenous groups, and the extent to which aspects of it have been destroyed, bastardized, and appropriated by white colonial and post-colonial America. I already understood my position of privilege as a white woman, but this text vastly increased my understanding of cultural appropriation and indigenous history, and how to occupy my position of privilege in a way that is respectful and helpful. 

My important literary and intellectual influences are Mary Oliver, William Wordsworth, Rick Riordan, John Green, Cheryl Strayed, and Paulo Coelho.

My post-graduation plans are nebulous at best, but I’ll at least be weathering quarantine with my friends in our off-campus college house, which we will be renting for another year. Ultimately, I intend to hike at least part of the Pacific Crest Trail and relocate to the Pacific Northwest. My dream is to work with the University of Washington’s Conservation Canine program, which trains rescue dogs to track endangered species and combat animal trafficking.

Kailani’s Writing Sample


Heber Guerra-RecinosHeber Guerra-Recinos

I guess this is where I’m supposed to say that my mother got me a 17th-century copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy, complete with the original paper he used and sweat stains he left on them. But no, instead, my earliest recollection of actively reading books was Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants. I can recall purchasing the first 8 books from a Scholastic book order (remember when those were a thing?) in elementary school and reading them several times over; arguably the first time I indulged in and enjoyed reading stories.

I like how “powerful” sounds like the text gave me the power to slay gods. Heehee. Any who, I think two texts stand out: the first is The Art of Fiction by John Garner, and the second is a collection of fiction that contained George Saunders’ “Victory Lap,” both from Professor Mooney’s Creative Fiction Workshop and Intro to Fiction courses, respectively. The first book was about how to write fiction successfully, and I can recall feeling the fire of passion and love for writing and creating fiction. The second introduced me to George Saunders, who would go on to be the subject of my English SCE and current favorite writer. 

My current literary influence is George Saunders, whose work is the subject of my English SCE. I love the way he makes really funny, dark, insightful, and compelling stories, which falls in line with the kind of writing I enjoy and write. Regarding intellectual or other influences, they usually hail from a number of sources, including: cartoons/animation (Gravity Falls, Avatar: The Last Air Bender, Steven Universe, Rick and Morty, theoddisout, Jaiden Animations, GildedGuy) video games (Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Super Smash Bros.), movies (Marvel/DC, animated), memes/internet humor, YouTube, personal experiences, and a lot more. All of these teach me how to create stories, worlds, and characters. 

That’s a good question. As of now, I plan to return (or stay, because pandemic) home and stick with my family, supporting them however I can. Meanwhile, I will at long last begin tackling the giant backlog of books I have, continue to write (and finally finish Over the Rocky Cliff), make visual art, play my Nintendo Switch, learn to video edit, and begin my personal dream of creating a YouTube Channel. 

Heber’s Writing Sample


Gabrielle RenteGabrielle Rente

I really loved The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. My mom then got me into reading the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson when I was older, which was the first book series that I tore through like a tiny, adventure-hungry hurricane. That series ended horribly, unfortunately, which I’m still bitter about to this day, but it also inspired me to write the stories that I wanted to see on the shelf. Anything with a streak of fantastical characters and wild adventures still enchants me.

One of my favorites to read was Pauline Hopkin’s Hagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice in Dr. Knight’s Gilded Age & American Realism my freshman year. Hopkins was a writer ahead of her time. Carolyn Forché’s The Country Between Us, which I read after we read “The Colonel” in Dr. Andrew’s creative writing workshop, gutted me, but it also inspired me to become more engaged in current issues and showed me the power of literature in modern political activism.

Definitely Julia Alvarez, Carolyn Forché, and Lidia Yuknavitch. Alvarez for her rich palette of history and family, Forché for writing truthfully and brutally for the sake of others, and Yuknavitch for her humor and honesty. I also have to credit José Martí and Joan Baez.

Career-wise, I want to pursue environmental journalism. In general, I would love to attend the Clearwater Festival and hike the Catskills where José Martí wrote Versos Sencillos, the poetry on which I focused my thesis.

Gabrielle’s Writing Sample



This will sound strange but I don’t remember reading much as a child. I do have these vivid memories of insisting that my father tell me a story at bedtime every night till about the age of seven. He would tell me these stories from mythology or folktales and I would insist on every night’s story being a new one. Till the age of seven, my father told me a new story every night. This repository of the oral tradition that I inherited from my parents became the foundation of my literary life. And scrutinizing the plot holes or questioning the more problematic elements of these tales was the start of my time as a literary critic. While I no longer find myself returning to the Mahabharat or Tenali Raman anymore, orality still permeates my creative pursuits

There are so many! As a sophomore who embodied the etymology of the word, I walked into a meeting with Dr. Andrews asking for help and she handed me two texts: “Can the Subaltern Speak?” by Gayatri Spivak and “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” by Hortense Spillers. Those two articles laid the foundation of my intellectual pursuits throughout my undergraduate career. On a more creative side, I was fortunate enough to read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Citizen by Claudia Rankine and The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch in different classes and they are all texts I return to on a regular basis. I also want to shoutout Dr. Durso for recommending Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick to me, which is another text I consider foundational in developing me as a student.

I’m fortunate enough to benefit from the intellectual and literary legacy of so many women of color including, but by no means limited to, Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak, M. Nourbese Philip, Ruha Benjamin, bell hooks, Tejaswini Niranjana, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Zadie Smith, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Ntozake Shange, Ismat Chughtai and Layli Long Soldier.

I’m planning to take a year off and then pursue graduate studies!

Saoirse’s Writing Sample


Mary SpragueMary Sprague

I read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead at basketball camp the summer before seventh grade and I haven’t gotten it out of my head since. Then, I liked it first for the romantic subplot and second for the time travel. 

House A by Jennifer Cheng has drastically changed the way I think about sentences, non-sentences, and the uses of both. That entire Prose Poetry class with Dr. Andrews profoundly shaped the way I construct my prose (short and boxy).

Lidia Yuknavitch, Anne Carson, Katori Hall, Justin Torres, Willa Cather, and Toni Morrison have all been great influences. My favorite musician right now is Lucy Dacus.

No post-graduate plans as of yet! (Waiting out the apocalypse.)

Mary’s Writing Sample


Abby WargoAbby Wargo

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I also re-read The Diary of Anne Frank often.

The novel I wrote about for my thesis, Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys. But in terms of texts I’ve studied in my classes, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Marilyn Chin, Lidia Yuknavitch, and sam sax, just to name a few.

I’m currently looking for work as a journalist.

Abby’s Writing Sample

Last modified on May. 12th, 2020 at 4:56pm by Julia Armstrong.