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About the Barry Prize

Springtime at the Abbey brings a change in dress code, the crack of the baseball bat, and the opportunity for Abbey boys to become prize-winning writers. Warm weather, of course, means no suit coats, and everybody knows when the seasons wheel round, baseball begins again, but the origins of the annual writing contest that makes authors out of Abbey boys are a little murkier - bottom of the Bering Sea murky. The story of the Barry Prize for Creative Writing springs from a tale of misfortune that will certainly rouse the writers among us.

Peter Barry, like many of you, was a natural writer who enjoyed the craft. As he walked these halls over forty years ago, perhaps he dreamed of being remembered for something he’d pen one day. He is indeed remembered - not for what he wrote, but for what one of you will write these many decades after his death.

Peter drowned before he was to begin his junior year at Yale when the Western Sea, a seventy-five-year-old salmon fishing boat he was working on, sank. He was on the Western Sea because he wouldn’t cross a picket line in the Alaskan packing factory that had hired him for summer work. He took a job on the ill-fated old boat instead.

After their son’s drowning, Peter’s parents established the Barry Prize to honor him and his unrealized aspirations.

So when you enter this contest in the spring, perhaps consider the first line of the true story that began with a boy sitting at one of your desks, who traveled to Yale and to Alaska and too far out to sea. Think of the boy whose father and mother stir up his spirit each spring by sowing your words, words as reliably hardy, heady, and transforming as the datura and grasses growing along our campus paths.