Lotte Larsen & Richard Meyer with student award recipients


Endowed by retired WOU faculty 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 at WOU.

Students need not be English majors. Per the endowment’s charter, the papers are evaluated by a blind-review process by tenure-track members of the literature faculty.

The award for the Meyer Prize is $500, with a second place prize of $200. The winning student, their professor, and the runner-up are also invited to a celebration dinner with the Meyers.

Eligibility criteria are described below.  Contact the competition coordinator (Gavin Keulks, keulksg@wou.edu) if you have questions.


Annual Recipients & Runners-up


  • Winner: April Massoni, “Prufrock’s Notes from Purgatory: Modernist and Religious Themes in T.S Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground click here to read
  • Runner-up: Jasper Beck, “Joking with a Heavy Heart: Bo Burnham as the Modern Underground Man” click here to read


  • Winner: Katy Tripp, “Heart of Darkness and the Failure of Identity” click here to read
  • Runner-up: Sam Marshall, “’Break out the Boat, It’s a Morality Trip Downriver” click here to read


  • Winner: Camden Jones, “A Titanic Resolution of Will: Cosmology and Duality in Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsemen click here to read
  • Runner-up: Sean Tellvik, “’Cold, Impotent Ash’: The Self-Destructive Fire of Masculinity in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Coetzee’s Disgrace click here to read


  • Winner: Elizabeth Obendorf, “Materialist and Consumerist Anxieties in Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’”
  • First Runner-up: Camden Jones, “Madame Bovary’s Art Show: Flaubert and the Exposition Universelle”
  • Second Runner-up: Kaela Wehrman, The Burden of Fantasies and the Harshness of Reality


  • Winner: Paul Baxter, “Fractured Identity and Destructive Self-Interest” click here to read
  • First 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 Sons click 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 Heights. click 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 Fury.” click 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: Caitlin Manion, “Twins: A Compelling Narrative Device in Two Igbo Novels” click here to read
  • First Runner-up: Taisa Efseaff, “A Theoretical Comparison of Thoreau’s Walden and Krakauer’s Into the Wild” click here to read
  • Second Runner-up: M. Catherine Bauman, “Changing Portrayals and Uses of Women Characters in African Literature” click here to read


  • Winner: Evan Christopher, “As Hard as the Middle of Thunder: Age and Love, Linguistics and Poetics, and Stanley Kunitz’s ‘Touch Me’” click here to read
  • First Runner-up: Caitlin Manion, “Wordsworthian Imagery and Childhood in The Mill on the Floss” click here to read
  • Second Runner-up: Taisa Efseaff, “The Mythic Figure of God as Presented in The Bible” click here to read


  • Winner: Katie Tvrdy, “Articulation in Austerlitz: The Reevaluation of the Holocaust Discourse” click here to read
  • First Runner-up: Daniel Bruner, “‘Where all the Ladders Start’: The Conduits of Art in the Poetry of W.B. Yeats” click here to read
  • Second Runner-up: Allison Houck, “Daisy Buchanan: Victim or Victimizer?” click here to read


  • 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-Winners:  Shobana Breeden, “The Conflict Between Patriarchy and Unwedded Pregnancy” and 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 Runner-up: 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): Bethany Lamb “Time for The Body Artist” and Kyle Baker, “Tides of Thought in Moby Dick:  Deconstructing the Doubloon”


  • Winner: Celeste Barker, 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 projects are ineligible.  However, non-traditional essays or projects — including creative non-fiction — 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 or professors may submit nominations.  Self-nominations are allowed.  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 2021-2022 competition, papers should have been written during spring 2021, summer 2021, fall 2021, and winter 2022.
  • 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 and Henry Hughes) 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, regardless of prior results.
  • In the event of a tie for first place, the co-winning essays will receive $300 each.

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 Studies Department: Integrated, Linguistics, Literature, and Writing

Department Head: Dr. Lars Söderlund | 503-838-8325 | or e-mail:  soderlundl@mail.wou.edu  | Location: BELL 309

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