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History and English professors earn Denny Prize honors

Jane Carroll (middle) with her husband, Jay, and daughter, Brigit.
Jane Carroll (middle) with her husband, Jay, and daughter, Brigit.
Rebecca Zenefski 10

In “This Higgledy-Piggledy Assembly: The McLeods, an Anglo-Dakota Family in Early Minnesota,” Jane Carroll ’80 traces the relationship between 19th century Indians and Anglo settlers through a Scots-Canadian fur trader, his young Anglo-Dakota wife and their five children. Her essay won the St. Catherine University associate professor of history the 2009–10 Denny Prize for Distinction in Writing.

“It is an essay that brings to life historical figures from more than a century and a half ago, engaging us in a story that perceptively recaptures the complexities of Minnesota’s multicultural past,” said Alan Silva, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences at the award reception April 6 in Coeur de Catherine.

Trustee Emeritus Chuck Denny, a former chairman of St. Kate’s Board of Trustees, and his brother, James, established the annual faculty/staff award 15 years ago to recognize the significance of writing to all fields of study. The Denny Prize honors their mother, Eleanor McCahill Denny ’26, who attributed her abiding love of books, words and elegant writing to her teachers at St. Kate’s.

“It’s very gratifying to be recognized for the kind of research and writing that I do,” Carroll told the nearly 30 people who attended the event, including Chuck Denny and his daughter, Anne. “Historical writing doesn’t usually get much notice.”

Carroll’s winning essay is part of her ongoing study of Native women and Anglo men from an oft-forgotten past. “I started the research 10 years ago because I became interested in (the women’s) choices. I’m on to a different family now.”

English Professor Robert Grunst earned honorable mention. His collection of poems titled “Whole Horses Eat Oranges” is “an extraordinary well-crafted group of poems that received high praise from the judges for riveting us into the dense and rich experience of the natural world,” Silva said.

Grunst, who read four poems at the awards ceremony, won the Denny Prize in 1997–98 — sharing that honor with Neil Elliot, former associate professor of theology at St. Kate’s. This is Grunst’s second honorable mention (2004–05).

“Writing is the key to liberal arts learning,” said Senior Vice President Colleen Hegranes. “It compels us to articulate our ideas, to link facts and concepts together and to acquire skill in rational argument. In today's world, where instant communications often leave clarity — not to mention elegance and subtlety — in the dust, ‘strong writing skills’ remain near the top of every job requirement we see.

“We are delighted to have faculty who understand the importance of good writing,” she added. “They pursue it in their research and scholarly endeavors, as much as they strive to instill it in their students.”

The Denny Prize judges -- Ranae Hanson, Garvin Davenport and Jack Galloway — all are noted writers and scholars from the Twin Cities community. They selected the winners based on four criteria: Does the work communicate to the generally educated reader? Is it well developed, well argued and sufficiently complex? Is the author’s voice strongly present? And would I recommend it to a friend to read?

“The judging is always a difficult process,” said Silva, because of the number of entries they receive and the many genres into which those entries fall.

There were 10 entries this year, and the judges read short stories; poetry collections; essays from history, sociology, literature and professional publications; and mixed-genre work incorporating poetry, fiction and non-fiction.

“It takes a fair amount of sifting and sorting, re-reading, even reading excerpts of some of the pieces aloud to hear the rhythm of the prose. And, of course, it takes a great deal of generosity and goodwill for the judges to understand each person’s perspective on their favorite pieces,” Silva said. “But in the end, we believe we chose the best two pieces.”

Editor’s note:
Jane Carroll’s essay also won the Minnesota Historical Society’s Solon J. Buck Award for best article of the year in December 2008. “This Higgledy-Piggledy Assembly: The McLeods, an Anglo-Dakota Family in Early Minnesota” was published in the summer 2007 issue of the society’s Minnesota History magazine.

April 26, 2010 by Pauline Oo

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