Wonderland Award Toasts Tomfoolery

Doctoral candidate Jonathan Hamrick takes first prize for his original fiction in the annual USC Libraries competition.
By Dan Knapp
Jonathan Hamrick receives his prize from USC Libraries supporter Linda Parker.

Photo/Jon Vidar
A surreal romp through the Texas countryside has won top honors in the USC Libraries’ third annual Wonderland Award, a competition for creative scholarship based on the work of English logician, mathematician, photographer and author Lewis Carroll.

English doctoral candidate Jonathan Hamrick accepted the $1,500 prize at the April 11 Wonderland reception held in Doheny Memorial Library’s Intellectual Commons. His winning short story is titled Whatcha Say, Jabberwock?: A Light (and Factual) Tale of Texas for the Children of Academics.

Hamrick joins previous first-place Wonderland Award winners Natasha Alvandi (2006) and the team of Charles Mallison and Lauren Tyler (2005).

His story follows two plumbers in central Texas near the real-world towns of Carrolton and Lewisville as they track the fabled Jabberwock. The plumbers in Whatcha Say, Jabberwock? engage in nonsensical banter and tomfoolery reminiscent of Carroll’s characters Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Made possible by a gift from USC Libraries supporter Linda Parker, the Wonderland Award complements the USC Libraries’ G. Edward Cassady and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady Lewis Carroll Collection. Established in 2000, the collection now contains more than 1,500 rare books, pamphlets, letters and other items related to Carroll’s work.

“I established the award to encourage awareness and continued use of the collection,” Parker said. “Perhaps the participants will even develop a fond and lasting memory of Lewis Carroll.”

Parker also remarked on the amount of work students put into the interdisciplinary competition each year. “The timing of the award was initially set to coincide with final papers,” she said. “What we are discovering is that the students do this work in addition to their current courses … and it is frequently unrelated to their field of study. Each year I wait excitedly to see the new ideas.”

Janet Thielke, a creative writing major, took home the $1,000 second-place award for Scrapbook. It contains poems, photographs, anagrams and Thielke’s imaginative rendering of the infamous missing pages from Carroll’s personal diary.

Screenwriting senior Paul Legault won $500 for the poem “Wonderland: A Girl in Three Parts.” The prose was inspired by Carroll’s acrostic poem “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky” that appears at the end of Through the Looking Glass.

A quartet of entries tied for the $250 prize. Fourth place went to Melanie Wagor for her short film Golden Afternoon; Erik Ohlsen for the poem and performance piece “The Voiceless Mother”; Megan Anderson for a handcrafted woolen doll titled “Send Woolen Manager” an anagram of the artist’s name based on Carroll’s nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark”; and Tara Crowl for an essay on Carroll’s influence on John Lennon titled “Who Is the Walrus?”

The entries were evaluated on their combination of scholarly research and creativity by Parker; USC School of Theatre associate dean Sharon Carnicke; Tyson Gaskill, USC Libraries’ director of programming; and Andrew Wulf, USC Libraries’ exhibition manager.

“I have been involved with this award since its inception, and every year I am astounded at the range of entries we receive,” Gaskill said. “Students have submitted illustrated stories, essays, screenplays, fine art, staged performances and sculpture. No form of creative endeavor seems beyond their abilities.”

Added Parker, “The students have such imagination. They are wildly creative. They articulate their processes and thinking, and I’m amazed to hear how they got to their pieces.”

The winning entries will become a permanent part of the Cassady Collection. Parker plans to work with the USC Libraries to help publish many of the entries, particularly the multimedia submissions.

Information about the fourth-annual Wonderland Award will be available in early 2008.