Hopwood Awards 75th Anniversary Awards Program
April 21, 2006
Good afternoon. I am Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan, and it is my privilege to welcome you to the Hopwood Awards Ceremony and a celebration of the program’s 75th anniversary.
Please join me in thanking our performers—Brian Buckner on the piano and vocalist Justin Keyes.
Justin and Brian are seniors in our musical theatre program and are graduating next week. The two songs they performed—“When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy” and “Nesting Time in Flatbush”—were popular hits in the early 20th century, when a young University graduate named Avery Hopwood was making his mark on Broadway.
More significant is the mark Avery Hopwood has made on Michigan students.
For seventy-five years now, writers of all ages have gathered at the University for the annual bestowing of the Hopwood Awards, the celebration of prose, and the promise of words to come.
Listen for a moment to these words of a past Hopwood honoree:
“The idea of a university handing out cold cash to students was, I confess, almost too glorious to contemplate. … But the central attraction was even more mysterious. The fact that money was given out meant that the judges, unlike your mother or your friends, could really tell good writing from bad. Thus, the recognition of an award touched more than the pocket; it might even point the future.”
That was the great playwright and alumnus Arthur Miller, reflecting on the power of the Hopwoods at the program’s 50th anniversary.
And now another 25 years have passed, with dozens upon dozens more Hopwoods awarded to students with a gift for drama, poetry, fiction and storytelling.
Avery Hopwood was able to endow the awards that bear his name because of his successful plays. His works were light and funny—a far cry from the stuff of Arthur Miller. Farce was the Hopwood trademark, and theatre-goers across the country happily consumed his work.
It is gloriously ironic that the rewards of theatrical farce came to create the most serious writing awards program in the country. One has to wonder if Avery Hopwood saw this story line unfolding.
Did he know his gift would lead to more than 3,000 awards and more than $2 million in prizes to students …
Did he expect that Hopwood winners would go on to create characters that are now embedded in the American lexicon—people like Willy Loman, Francie Nolan, and Indiana Jones …
And did he anticipate the prestige and honor that accompany a Hopwood Award, and the eagerness we all share for the work to come from our young writers …
In the 1950s, when she was a student at UC-Berkeley, Joan Didion yearned for a Hopwood but knew she was at the wrong university. “I wanted to win one,” she said, “not only because the very word ‘Hopwood’ had a big-time national sound to it … a kind of certification that the winner was on the right track … but also because the prize was money, cash, and I needed it.”
The money, and the honor, of a Hopwood Award are validation—a very public confirmation that the winner is indeed on the right track. The proof of that sits in this auditorium with distinguished Hopwood winners who moved on from Michigan to successful careers as novelists, playwrights, journalists and screenplay writers.
For 75 years, this magnificent awards program has validated the importance of writers, and writing, at the University of Michigan. It is a welcome ritual we will again carry out this afternoon, and for years to come, because of Avery Hopwood, his gift of farce, and his legacy of generosity and inspiration.