It's the Sound of 50 G's, Baby

UT grad Nora Boxer wins the prestigious Keane Prize for her short story, 'It's the song of the nomads, baby; or, Pioneer.'

You gotta start somewhere: Benefactor E.L. Keene, some time before he endowed millions to encourage
You gotta start somewhere: Benefactor E.L. Keene, some time before he endowed millions to encourage "good American literature" (courtesy of the University of Texas)

The University of Texas announced today the winner of the Keene Prize, with its jaw-dropping jackpot of $50,000; Nora Boxer, a graduate of the Creative Writing Program in the English Department, took the prize for her short story, "It's the song of the nomads, baby; or, Pioneer."

This is the first year since the Prize's inception in 2006 that a Michener Center for Writers student hasn't taken first place. MCW students did, however, crowd the finalist field, with Roger Reeves (poetry), Fiona McFarlane (fiction), and Virginia Reeves (fiction) splitting an additional $50,000 between them.

The Keene Prize is the largest student prize of its kind. It is endowed by (and named for) E.L. Keene, a 1942 UT graduate and Revlon chemist who stated in his will that he wanted to “encourage the writing of good American literature.”

Full press release below …

AUSTIN, Texas — Nora Boxer, a graduate of the Creative Writing Program in the English Department at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature for her story "It's the song of the nomads, baby; or, Pioneer."

The Keene Prize is one of the world's largest student literary prizes. An additional $50,000 will be divided among three finalists.

Boxer's story was chosen from 61 submissions in drama, poetry and fiction. Laconic in style, it unsentimentally evokes the artistic, old hippy, new punk eco-lifestyle in New Mexico. In a sharply evoked landscape of bare mesas and changing seasons, among a cast of characters ranging from the shallow and self-aggrandizing to the stoically compassionate, the pregnant heroine tries to make sense of her commitment to a life "off the grid."

"As we watch the devastating consequences of our oil addiction unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, Nora's story takes on particular resonance," said Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and chair of the award selection committee. "She examines the costs and consequences of an attempt to live responsibly as well as creatively."

Boxer graduated Brown University in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in English and American literature and earned her master's degree in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin this year. She has had a varied career in arts, agriculture, community and non-profit work, including an apprenticeship at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California and work with a literary organization in Taos, N.M. She is developing a nonprofit, sustainable urban arts residency in Oakland.

In addition to Boxer, the three finalists are:

Roger Reeves, master of fine arts graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, for his collection of poetry, "King Me." These allusive poems appropriate paintings, classic literature and history to build a formally inventive, emotionally intense and rhythmically powerful structure.

Fiona McFarlane, master of fine arts student of the Michener Center, for two stories, "Mycenae" and "Exotic Animal Medicine." McFarlane's prose is polished, elegant and witty, while her displaced characters are sharp observers of the original and awkward situations in which she places them.

Virginia Reeves, master of fine arts student of the Michener Center, for three stories, "Investments as Big as These," "Why Don't You Put that Down" and "Her Last Dead Child." These stories employ strong dialogue and rich descriptive detail to evoke the complicated relations between parents and children.

Members of the 2008 selection committee included: Cullingford; Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Holly Williams, chair ad interim of the Department of Theatre and Dance; Joanna Hitchcock, director of The University of Texas Press; and resident author Tom Zigal, novelist and speechwriter for President William Powers Jr.

Established in 2006 in the College of Liberal Arts, the Keene Prize is named after E.L. Keene, a 1942 graduate of the university, 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 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.

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