In the Rackham Amphitheatre on Tuesday, 34 graduate and undergraduate students were presented with Hopwood Awards, totaling more than $220,000 in prizes. The presentation of awards was followed by a lecture by author Susan Choi, who discussed the way people tell stories about themselves.
Avery Hopwood — popular American dramatist and University of Michigan alumnus — endowed the Hopwood Program in 1931. According to English Prof. Peter Ho Davies, director of the Hopwood Awards Program, Hopwood was known as the “playboy playwright,” who donated upon his death a fifth of his estate to the University to be used for the encouragement of “new, unusual and radical” writing.
The judging process consists of a bi-level system starting with community judges then moving to a national level. Points were awarded at each level and aggregated to determine the monetary value associated with the prize.
Art & Design sophomore Annie Turpin, recipient of the Arthur Miller Award of the University of Michigan Club of New York Scholarship Fund, said she is surprised and grateful for the award, which featured a prize of $2,700 worth of tuition credit and a signed copy of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
“It’s kind of surreal because I never expected to win something like this,” she said. “But at the same time I’m really proud of it and will always remember this ceremony and will always have this very cool signed book.”
Jonathan Freedman, professor of English, American studies and Judaic studies, introduced Choi by talking about his experiences as her professor while at Yale University. He said she always sat scowling in the back of the classroom, but a few times every class would come out of her shell and make a brilliant comment.
Freedman said, as her professor at the time, he knew Choi would go on to accomplish much in her life.
“I’ve had some remarkable students, and I often think if I would have predicted great things of them when I taught them,” he said. “I think in the case of Susan the answer is ‘yes.’ Susan has really had an amazingly wonderful career.”
Choi said in preparation for delivering her lecture, she spent hours reading previous Hopwood lectures, all of which detailed advice on how to write, a practice she notes is difficult.
She said what she has discovered the process involves no exact science.
“I don’t think there is any one truth about writing,” she said. “That there’s any one piece of advice or nugget of wisdom that applies to all writing or even most writing. There’s only highly individualized testimony.”
Choi suggested the process of putting words onto the page sometimes may only help the writer understand what they do not want in their novel and moments when not writing may influence what does go in it. She said it is impossible to distinguish when one is working on a novel from when one is not because the process is intertwined.
“You don’t know when you’re not working on it because potentially, at any moment, you are,” she said. “Every part of our lives is potentially part of our work. Everything is tax deductible and nothing goes to waste.”
LSA senior Carly Martin said although she is not a writer, she found the talk engaging.
“I thought that it was really inspiring,” she said. “I’m not a writer myself, but it’s interesting to hear the process of it and see that it’s not as easy as you might think.”