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Louis B. Sudler Prize in the Arts awarded to two seniors from theater and creative writing

By Emma Yarbrough | Emory Report | May 10, 2021

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The Sudler Prize honors graduating seniors who have demonstrated exceptional promise in the performing or creative arts. Meet Ruth Puryear and Jack Stallins, Emory’s 2021 recipients.

Emory students Ruth Puryear and Jack Stallins are Emory University’s 2021 recipients of the Louis B. Sudler Prize in the Arts, honoring the graduating senior or seniors who have demonstrated exceptional promise in the performing or creative arts.

The Sudler Prize, given annually at Emory and a select group of colleges across the nation (including Princeton, Duke and MIT), is accompanied by a $6,000 award.

Ruth Puryear

As an actor, choreographer and director, Nashville native Ruth Puryear has made an indelible mark on Emory’s theater community.

“Ruth has not only changed our department for the better, but she has made an impact on the student theater community at Emory that will be felt for years to come,” says Caitlin Hargraves, theater studies lecturer and resident actor and director with Theater Emory.

“As a faculty mentor, I have had the great fortune of watching and listening in the hallways as students come in and out of rehearsals for one of Ruth’s numerous productions. There is such magic in those moments as I can see the absolute trust they have in their director’s vision,” says Hargraves.

For Puryear, the affection flows both ways. “The student and faculty mentors that I have had at Emory have played an extremely important role in my life,” she says, “as well as my connections with the younger students who have been involved in my recent projects. I hope to continue to nurture those relationships.”

Beyond her leadership among students, Puryear has cultivated a reputation as a talented and visionary artist. This spring, as part of her honors thesis for which she received highest honors, Puryear produced a successful drive-in style musical, the only production of in-person, live theater to happen on campus during the pandemic.

“As a director, Ruth’s execution and composition are excellent. Her tremendous talent and vision allow her to execute large-scale projects of great complexity to the highest level,” says Hargraves. “The faculty members of the theater studies department regard her talent as exceeding that of professional directors they have worked with.”

While Puryear will pursue a JD degree at the University of North Carolina School of Law this fall, her passion for the theater will remain a driving force in her career.

“The values that are essential to theater, such as empathy, political awareness and social justice, inspire me to go to law school,” says Puryear. “Going forward, I hope to continue to be an engaged member of the theater community and use my legal education to support arts advocacy.”

Jack Stallins

Jericho Brown, director of Emory’s lauded Creative Writing Program, describes Jack Stallins as “a lyric poet whose work makes use of absurdist and surrealist modes in its achievement of humor and its heartbreaking look at, among other things, alcoholism in the working class, white, religious, rural American South.” 

A native of Rome, Georgia, Stallins is known for work reflecting his southern background and his inquisitive wit.

“Jack is completely unflinching and shameless when it comes to interrogating his own whiteness, his family and the disturbing beauty of the South,” says Brown. “He understands that poems are built out of craft and that craft is best used for that which are our passions, obsessions, and yes, demons.” 

“Jack’s poems bring people to life in all their complexities, creating an impression of fullness, while also maintaining a keen sense of the art of linguistic compression,” says Heather Christle, assistant professor of Creative Writing and Stallins’ thesis advisor.

This fall, after graduating from Emory with highest honors, Stallins will continue his studies in the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, a top-five program in the nation known for its proximity to Emily Dickinson’s work, life, papers and scholars. He has also been awarded the position of teaching assistant through the writing program there.

With a promising career ahead of him, Stallins credits studying under the esteemed artists of Emory’s Creative Writing Program as foundational to his future as a poet.

“I am very humbled to have received this recognition, and I’m glad that my faculty and the committee saw value in my work,” says Stallins. “I would not be half the poet I am today without my teachers and colleagues in the Creative Writing program, and for them I am thankful.”