Student News

Bennington College Awards the Ben Belitt Prize for Undergraduate Writers

Winston Foundation grant funds $1,000 prizes for three students.

Bennington, VT: Literature faculty at Bennington College are pleased to publish the winners of the first Ben Belitt Prize for Undergraduate Writers, which were announced on the evening of May 15 as a part of the Ben Belitt Colloquium on Arts and Literary Culture. 

  • Emmett A. Donovan ’24, from Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, for his short story “Cutting Close to the Power Lines” about an intense friendship between two adolescents
  • Blu Mehari ’26, from Las Vegas, for eight poems of searching and excavation, including “Swarm” and “After Rothko’s Green Blue Green (1969)”
  • Lily R. Sanders ’26, of Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, for her short story “Madonna-mania,” which is about a group of friends in the aftershock of sudden death

The contest awards prizes of $1,000 to the best work of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or hybrid work written by a current undergraduate student. 

“All of the finalists for the Ben Belitt Undergraduate Writing Prize were terrific, original, and memorable. Each piece was a pleasure to read,” wrote Jia Tolentino, the 2024 Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, and the judge of the contest. “What distinguished the three winners…was a sense of real precision in both thought and language.” 

The Winston Foundation supports the Ben Bellit Undergraduate Writing Prize, the Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer, and the 2024 Ben Belitt Colloquium on Arts and Literary Culture. 

In addition to judging the contest, Tolentino is teaching a full-term, 4000-level course, Hearing Voices: A Master Class in Literary Journalism, this term and gave a reading in March. She is the bestselling author of the essay collection, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, and a screenwriter. Trick Mirror, published in 2019, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for Best First Book and the PEN America Diamondstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. It was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Public Library, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, NPR, the Chicago Tribune, GQ, and the Paris Review. It has been translated into twelve languages. 

The 2024 Ben Belitt Colloquium attracted more than 100 in-person attendees and nearly forty online. Attendees enjoyed a panel of contemporary writers as they discussed the work and life of Reginald Shepherd '85 (1963-2008), a Black queer poet and essayist. Panelists included National Book Award winning poet Jericho Brown, MacArthur Award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem ‘86, and celebrated poet Camille Rankine. Brown edited a new collection of Shepherd's poems, The Selected Shepherd from University of Pittsburgh Press, which was released in April. 

The Winston Foundation is based in New York City and supports higher education, including medical education, as well as hospitals and cultural programs. The programs are named in memory of Ben Belitt, an American poet and translator who was a professor of comparative literature at Bennington for nearly fifty years. Belitt published eight books of poems, two books of essays, and numerous translations, notably of the Spanish-language poets Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, and Pablo Neruda. This Scribe, My Hand, his complete poems, was published in 1998. The visitorship serves to enhance instruction at the college through programming that embodies the spirit of Belitt’s legacy as a poet, a literary translator, and an educator. 

About Literature at Bennington College

Bennington College’s alumni include twelve Pulitzer Prize winners, three U.S. poets laureate, four MacArthur Geniuses, and countless New York Times bestsellers and National Book Award recipients. 

Recent graduates have gone on to attend PhD and MFA programs in literature and creative writing at Stanford University, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NYU, UVA, Columbia University, Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts, Arizona State, and Brown University. Graduates have had poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, journalism, and book reviews published or accepted by The New Yorker, The Atlantic Wire, The Awl, Boston Review, Christian Science Monitor, Denver Quarterly, The Guardian, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Ploughshares.

Rooted in an abiding faith in the talent, imagination, and responsibility of the individual, Bennington invites students to pursue and shape their own intellectual inquiries, and in doing so to discover the profound interconnection of things. 

Bennington College is the proud home to Bennington Review, Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program, the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, and the Young Writers Awards.

About Bennington College

Bennington College is a liberal arts college in southwestern Vermont that has distinguished itself as a vanguard institution within American higher education. It was the first to include the visual and performing arts in a liberal arts education. It is the only college to require that its students spend a term—every year—at work in the world. Bennington students work intensively with faculty to forge individual educational paths around their driving questions and interests.