SHASS announces expanded Kelly Essay Prize for undergraduates

All forms of nonfiction prose now eligible for the $800 prize


This year, all forms of nonfiction prose — including personal essays, science writing, cultural commentary, research papers, memoir, travel literature or nature writing — may be entered to win an $800 Kelly Essay Prize, given annually by the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

The prize is a program of the Kelly-Douglas Fund, which supports excellence in humanistic scholarship, and recognizes outstanding achievement in nonfiction writing by one or more MIT undergraduates. Essays may be 12-20 pages long, and are due by noon, April 16, 2013. More information about the prize and an application are available on the Kelly-Douglas website.

All forms of nonfiction prose can be entered

“We’re looking for cogency of argument and evidence of a truly continuous piece of prose,” says Noel Jackson, associate professor of literature and director of the Kelly-Douglas Fund. “We want to read and honor essays that are readable, essays that teach, enlighten, entertain — that tell us something we don’t already know about the subject.”

Historically, the Kelly Essay Prize has been awarded for academic research papers written within SHASS. This year, the evolution of academic practice prompted the opening up of criteria to include all varieties of nonfiction writing. “Even students minoring or double-majoring in SHASS aren’t in every case writing research papers,” Jackson says. “Academic work has changed to such a degree that there are more ways now to do research in the humanities and social sciences.”

Essays written for school or outside of school are eligible

The prize committee is also open to awarding writing done outside of school. “An award essay could come from a student memoir," Jackson says. "It might come out of a field report, a travel diary, or it might come out of class — these are not mutually exclusive. Students who take one of the 'Writing and Experience' subjects, for example, might want to submit something.”

Last year, mechanical engineering major Xenia Antipova ’13 received $800 for an essay on 19th century American history: "Bonfield's Disregard for Justice: The Haymarket Riot.” The year before, economics major Emma Rosen ’11 won $800 for “The Revolution Stops Here: Shay's' Rebellion.” Occasionally, more than one prize is awarded.

Celebrating excellent writing at MIT

The point of the prize, Jackson says, is to highlight the critical importance of good writing. “The ability to write and express yourself effectively is crucial in all fields — from physics to history, from oceanography to engineering — and MIT has long focused on cultivating strong communication skills in all our undergraduates. The Kelly-Douglas Prize is one way we show that MIT celebrates good writing and students who develop skill in this area."

Additional Kelly-Douglas Fund grants and fellowships

Established in 1975 with generous donations from I. Austin Kelly III (SB’26), the fund’s current name reflects Kelly’s desire to honor historian Richard M. Douglas, who headed MIT’s Humanities Department from 1962 to 1991 and served as the fund’s first director. In addition to the essay prize, the Kelly-Douglas Fund sponsors teaching and research grants for faculty, and travel fellowships for students. Information about the travel fellowships are also available on the SHASS website.

This year’s Kelly Essay Prize committee members and judges are: Jackson, Associate Professor Sandy Alexandre of Literature, Associate Professor Christopher Capozzola of History, and Professor Stefan Helmreich of Anthropology.


Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand
Senior Writer: Kathryn O'Neil


Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships, Humanities, Literature, languages and writing, Students, Undergraduate, Writing

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