Meyer Prize for Excellence in Literature



Lotte Larsen & Richard Meyer with Brandy Balas, N. Evans, and M. Clark (2015)


Endowed by retired WOU faculty members Richard Meyer and Lotte Larsen, The Meyer Prize for Excellence in Literature is awarded annually for an outstanding essay written in an upper-division course on literature. Students need not be English majors. The papers are evaluated in a blind-review process by members of the literature faculty.

The award for the Meyer Prize is $500. In many years, second and third place papers have received $150 and $50 respectively. The winning student, a guest, and their professor are also invited to a celebration dinner with the Meyers.

Eligibility criteria are described below.  Contact the competition coordinator (Gavin Keulks) if you have questions.

Annual Recipients & Runners-up


  • Winner: Paul Baxter, “Fractured Identity and Destructive Self-Interest” click here to read
  • Runner-up: Nicolas Wilkes, “The Disintegration of Catherine Earnshaw” click here to read
  • Second Runner-up: James Doyle, “The Tragic Adventure: Arthur Miller’s Portrayal of Survivors Guilt in All My Sonsclick here to read


  • Winner: Sadie Moses, “Starvation in Culture: Food and Social Criticism.” click here to read
  • Runner-up: Zoe Strickland, “Ignorance and Beauty in GigiDaniel Deronda, and Emma.” click here to read


  • Winner: Courtney Royer, “The Pillowman: Setting the Stage.” read text | view images
  • First Runner-up: Joleen Braasch, “Wild Androgyny and Cultured Patriarchy: The Dogs of Wuthering here to read
  • Second Runner-up: Megan Clark, “Naming, Identity, and the Feminine in The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying.” click here to read


  • Winner: Brandy Balas, “American Dreams and Self-Reflection: The Shared Flaws of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and Sal Paradise in On the Road.” click here to read
  • First Runner-up: Nicolas Evans, “Discovering the Truth of Passion” click here to read
  • Second Runner-up: Megan Clark, “The Eternal One: Transcendental Philosophy in Moby Dick and Benito Cereno.” click here to read


  • Winner: Katurah Hein, “Faulkner’s Fundamental Morality in As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the here to read
  • First Runner-up: Kimberlee Bartle, “A Modernist Distrust of Words: The Exploitation of a World Obsessed with the Arbitrary Confines of Language.” click here to read
  • Second Runner-up: Peter Carrillo, “The Pharmacist and the Holy Man.” click here to read


  • Co-Winner: Vanessa Cutz, “Living Story from the Inside: Characters’ Narratives about Self in the American Short Story”
  • Co-Winner: Connor Shields, “Point of View in the Modern Short Story”
  • Second Runner-up: Michael Mehringer, “The Meaning Dissolves: Symbolism in the American Short Story”


  • Winner: Paige O’Rourke, “A Beautiful Disaster: The Paradoxes of Self-Deception and Freedom within The Great Gatsby and American Beauty
  • First Runner-up: Venessa Cutz, “The Wolf in America—Bringing Back A Little Fear”
  • Second Runner-up: Ben Hynes-Stone, “A Curvature of Time: Identity in the Bildungsroman”


  • Winner: Paige O’Rourke, “Disorderly Conduct: The Trickster Spirit and the Maturation of the Human Psyche”
  • First Runner-up: Ben Hynes-Stone, “Encapsulated Everlasting Radiance: Winter Interiors”
  • Second Runner-up: Justin Rush, “‘Everything Changes’: Broken Homes and the Sacrifice of Individuality”





  • Winner: Jon Bernard, “Variations on a Theme: Faith, Doubt, and Reason as Explored by Hopkins and Tennyson”
  • First Runner-up: Jennifer Carmichael, “Storytelling in Midnight’s Children: Self-Construction through Remembering and the Vulnerability of Forgetting”
  • Second Runner-up: Bryan Beck, “Absurd Realism: The Inaccurate Criticism of Gao Zingjian’s ‘The Bus Stop'”


  • Winner: Jennifer Carmichael, “From Brigand to Bookworm: How Reading Shapes Interiority”
  • Runners-up (tie): Shauna Anderson, “Center of Instability as the Abyss of Paranoia” and Amanda Miles, “Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: From Freud to Erikson”


  • Co-Winner: Shobana Breeden, “The Conflict Between Patriarchy and Unwedded Pregnancy”
  • Co-Winner: Amanda Hughes, “Enabling or Discouraging Change: God’s Bits of Wood versus Nervous Conditions”
  • Second Runner-up: Brooke Snelling, “Nigeria: A Tragic Hero”


  • Winner: Shelley Stonebrook, “Seeking Progress and Truth in a Cyclical, Magical Past: Representations of History in the Post-Colonial Novel.”
  • First Runner-up: Stephanie W. Hampton, “Marriage in Toni Morrison’s Work: The Legacy of Slavery in Family Relations Through Generations.”
  • Second Runners-up (tie): Janelle Davis, “Heroic Effort Required” and Lucas Howard, “Language and the Fallibility of History.”


  • Winner: Susanne Dora, “All that We Can’t Leave Behind:  The Inescapable Influence of History on Perspective.”
  • Runners-up (tie): Kyle Baker, “Tides of Thought in Moby Dick:  Deconstructing the Doubloon” and Bethany Lamb “Time for The Body Artist”


  • Winner: Celeste Barker, untitled essay on Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Award Criteria


  • The paper must have literature as its central focus. Creative writing submissions are ineligible.  However, non-traditional essays or projects are eligible, provided the “core concept” is one of “critical literary analysis.”  The Meyer Prize competition is open to quality work, broadly defined, provided that key criterion is met.  See Courtney Royer (2015-16) for an example of a non-traditional scholarly project.
  • Any paper written in (or translated into) English and that was originally submitted for an upper-division (300 & 400 level) class at WOU is eligible.
  • Students may submit no more than 1 essay. A professor may nominate up to 3 essays, but only if they were written for his/her class. No student can have more than 2 essays entered in the competition.
  • Papers should be submitted electronically to the organizer of the competition (Gavin Keulks), who will strip them of all identification, comments, and grades to ensure a “blind” competition.
  • Papers need to have been written during the preceding spring, summer, fall, and winter terms. For example: for the 2016-2017 competition, papers should have been written during spring 2016, summer 2016, fall 2016, and winter 2017.
  • Papers can be submitted at any time. The deadline for submission is April 25, with winners announced in mid-May. The winning student (and possibly runners-up) may be asked to summarize their essay at our annual Academic Excellence Showcase in late-May.
  • In the unlikely event of a questionable submission (ie. a revised essay or an essay whose primary focus is not literature but, say, the literary industry), the steering committee (Gavin Keulks, Curt Yehnert, Tom Rand) will make the final decision regarding eligibility.
  • If more than 15 essays are received, the steering committee will winnow the initial submissions down to 8.
  • A student can win only one award in any year’s competition. A student may enter the competition in multiple years, however, regardless of prior results.
  • In the event of a tie for first place, the co-winning essays will receive $325 each. In the event of ties for second or third place, those essays will split $100 or $50 respectively.


Profile of Previous Winning Essays


This profile of past winning essays is intended to help you consider whether to submit an essay — or decide which of your papers to submit:

  • winning essays have always been longer than 7 pages
  • winning essays have always incorporated external sources
  • winning essays have always received an original grade of “A”

Students are strongly encouraged to read winning essays from previous years to deduce the quality of work that typically receives awards.




English, Writing & Linguistics Department

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