WHEN Avery Hopwood was graduated from the University of Michigan in 1905 he left Ann Arbor with the desire to become a playwright. Throughout the years of his college life he had been interested in writing, and he was no doubt encouraged in his work by Professor Fred N. Scott, his teacher and his friend. Both Scott and Hopwood were active members of Quadrangle, the club that did more than any other at the time to discover and develop the creative capacities of students and faculty. Avery Hopwood's first play, entitled Clothes, was a serious drama written in collaboration with Channing Pollock. It was followed by a large number of dramas, most of them light farces, which made the name of Hopwood known not only in the United States, but also throughout the world wherever the play is looked upon as a source of entertainment.
The fact that his first play was a serious drama may indicate the depth of Avery Hopwood's interest in his writing. At least, one of his friends testifies that his failure to continue to write serious drama was always a source of regret to him. His farces, however, brought him the satisfaction of a large and steadily increasing income, until at the time of his death he was a millionaire. No one knows when he conceived the highly dramatic idea that resulted in the Hopwood awards, but one may surmise that his own experience as a struggling young writer on the Michigan campus had something to do with his desire to make the path of the talented student an easier one to travel.
Upon his death in 1928 he left one-fifth of his large fortune to his alma mater with the proviso that the income from the bequest should be given away each year "to students … who perform the best creative work in the fields of dramatic writing, fiction, poetry, and the essay." The quotation is from his will.
The bequest amounted to $351,069.78. From the income in the ten years ending in June, 1940, the University has given away in prizes for student writing over $90,000. The prizes help to subsidize many talented young students during their years in college. In some instances the awards are large enough to give the students a year or more of leisure following graduation in which they may develop their capacities as writers (see also Part III: Department of Rhetoric). Since the inauguration of the contests in 1931 sixty-three prizes of $250 each have been awarded, two of $300, two of $350, three of $400, eleven of $500, seven of $600, eight of $700, eight of $800, three of $900, sixteen of $1,000, two of $1,200, two of $1,250, one of $1,300, twelve of $1,500, one of $2,000, and two of $2,500. Thirty-six of these prizes are of $1,000, or over. Nowhere else in the Page 574world does a university offer such large prizes in the field of writing.
As an aid in the development of the students' capacities, courses in English composition are offered in the Department of English Language and Literature and in the Department of Journalism. These courses are so arranged that properly qualified students may, if they desire, work under direction every semester of their college course.
To add to the convenience of those planning to enter the contests, the committee in charge has opened the Hopwood Room. Here the students find current magazines, book reviews, critical journals, and a growing library of modern literature. Each month a few books fresh from the press are added to the collection. Here also, in a case by themselves and substantially bound, are all the manuscripts that have so far won awards.
As early as 1931 publishers began to be interested in the results of the Hopwood contests, and they are accepting prize-winning manuscripts in steadily increasing numbers. In the following list the date indicates the year in which the manuscript won an award, rather than the date of publication.
- Swamp Mud, a play, by Harold Courlander (1931).
- Whatever You Reap, poems, by Annemarie Persov (1932).
- "Books for the Dead," a play, by Hobert Skidmore (1933), in: American and English One-Act Plays, Vol. II.
- Fireweed, a novel, by Mildred Walker Schemm, nom de plume, Mildred Walker (1933).
- I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes, a novel, by Hubert Skidmore (1935).
- Straw in the Wind, a novel, by Ruth Lininger Dobson (1936).
- The Stubborn Way, a novel, by Baxter Hathaway (1936).
- The Well of Ararat, a novel, by Emmanuel P. Menatsaganian, nom de plume, Emmanuel P. Varandyan (1937).
- The King Pin, a novel, by Helen Finnegan Wilson (1938).
- Lucien, a novel, by Vivian La Jeunesse Parsons (1938).
- Fragments for America, poems, by Norman Rosten (1938). This volume, with additions of new poems, won the Yale Poetry Award for 1940 and is published in the Yale Series of Younger Poets.
- Homeward to America, a volume of poems by John Ciardi (1939).
- Heart-Shape in the Dust, a volume of poems by Robert E. Hayden (1940).
- The Loon Feather, a novel, by Iola Fuller Goodspeed, nom de plume, Iola Fuller (1939).
Several of the writers mentioned above have continued to show evidence of productivity. Hubert Skidmore's fourth book, a juvenile entitled Hill Doctor, appeared in the summer of 1939. Ruth Lininger Dobson's second novel, Today Is Enough, appeared in 1939. Mildred Walker's fourth novel, The Brewers' Big Horses, appeared on August 8, 1940. Harold Courlander's second book, Haiti Singing, was published early in 1940.
The large awards are beginning to draw to the University young men and women for whom the art of writing is already one of the serious interests of life and for whom it may become a career. The Hopwood committee hopes that this movement will continue and that eventually the most talented young writers in the country, from freshmen to graduate students, will find their way here. As a result of Avery Hopwood's generous bequest the University should become the center for the development of talent in creative writing.