Mark Their Words

Celebrating Our Research and Writing Prize Winners

By Mikaela Johnson

Every year the Duke University Libraries run a series of essay contests recognizing the original research of Duke students and encouraging the use of library resources. These awards include the Lowell Aptman Prizes, for use of the general library collections and services; the Ole R. Holsti Prize, for excellence in the field of political science and public policy research; the Chester P. Middlesworth Award, for research using the primary sources and rare materials held in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library; and the Rudolph William Rosati Creative Writing Award, for an outstanding work of creative writing. Winners of these awards receive cash prizes of $1,000 or $1,500 as well as recognition at a reception during Duke’s Family Weekend. This year we wanted to highlight a few of our winners and ask what they planned to do with their winnings.

Jessica Chen

Jessica Chen, a winner of the Lowell Aptman Prize, had a central research question, asking how different communities that face barriers from higher housing rates in the Lower East Side of New York intersect, and how one represents that intersection in art. As an art history major, Jessica was able to further her studies by visiting art galleries in New York that represent these communities. Her research confronting the history of ghettos in New York also allowed her to explore different fields of study – such as urban policy – while reading historical 1920s newspapers provided by the library. Her research resulted in her paper “Post-Modern Folk Chronicler.” Jessica says that she plans to use the prize money to “finally organize [her] life by buying an iPad and Apple pen for note-taking.”

Blaire Zhang (right) with librarian Arianne Hartsell-Gundy

Blaire Zhang might not fit the profile of the typical student who wins the William Rosati Creative Writing Award. She’s a computer science major. Her paper, “Sapiens,” was actually the first creative writing assignment she ever had at Duke, and she managed to have it recognized as one of the top creative writing assignments out of all the undergraduates last semester. The intersection of Blaire’s abilities won’t stop with this award, however. She plans to use the prize money in order to create a digital visualization of her writing.

Jack Bradford (right) with Professor of English Tom Ferraro

Jack Bradford received the Lowell Aptman prize for his honors thesis, “Errand into the Water Closet: Scat and the Making of the American Modernist Novel.” Jack dug his nose into the portrayal of feces in six different novels from the 1920s-1930s. He explains that one can use scatology to view race, gender, and religion throughout these novels. “The modernist novel became the vehicle through which I synthesized an eclectic bibliographical dung heap into a systematic theoretical paradigm,” he quipped.


Valerie Muensterman

Valerie Muensterman’s name might sound familiar. This is now Valerie’s third time to be a recipient of our Rosati Award. Valerie, who studies English and Theater Studies, is a playwright. Last year, when she won for a collection of plays, she told us that she hoped the prize money would provide the opportunity to explore her passion. And that she did! But this time she used her skills to write “Did You Forget Your Name?” a screenplay about a stuttering female protagonist, borrowing from the experiences of her older sister. She uses the protagonist to bring forward her central theme: waiting. While accepting her award, she explained that just as she learned to wait through her sister’s speech, perhaps the slower speech of the protagonist can teach us that we must wait for the most critical moments in life.

Mikaela Johnson (T’20) is an English major and student worker in the Library Development and Communications department.

Complete List of This Year’s Winners

Lowell Aptman Prize
Recognizing excellence in undergraduate research using sources from the Libraries’ general collections

  • First/Second-Year: Veronica Niamba for “The Day Man Stood Still,” nominated by Gray Kidd
  • Third/Fourth-Year: Jessica Chen for “Post-Modern Folk Chronicler,” nominated by Dr. Paul Jaskot
  • Honors Thesis: Jack Bradford for “Errand into the Water Closet,” nominated by Dr. Tom Ferraro

Chester P. Middlesworth Award
Recognizing excellence of analysis, research, and writing in the use of primary sources and rare materials held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

  • Undergraduate: Sierra Lorenzini for “Fair Haired: Considering Blonde Women in Film and Advertising,” nominated by Dr. Kristine Stiles
  • Graduate: Michael Freeman for “P. Duke Inv. 664R: A Fragmentary Alchemical Handbook,” nominated by Dr. Jennifer Knust

Ole R. Holsti Prize
Recognizing excellence in undergraduate research using primary sources for political science and public policy

  • Amanda Sear for “To Smoke or to Vape? E-cigarette Regulation in the US, the UK, and Canada,” nominated by Dr. Ed Balleisen
  • Yue Zhou for “Learning Languages in Cyberspace: A Case Study of World Languages Courses in State Virtual Public Schools,” nominated by Dr. Leslie Babinski

Rudolph William Rosati Creative Writing Award
Recognizing outstanding undergraduate creative writing

  • Valerie Muensterman for “Did You Forget Your Name?”
  • Caroline Waring for “The Roof”
  • Blaire Zhang for “Sapiens”