Write It Short

How the Hoffer Essay Contest Inspired Two Staff Members to Jot Down, Briefly, What's on Their Minds

by Dawn Finch

"Fired With Enthusiasm!"--the topic of the most recent Eric Hoffer Essay Contest--struck a chord with both Maureen Morley and Anna Moore, albeit in different ways.

Morley, assistant director of Student Activities and Services, and Moore, a specialist with Environment, Health and Safety, are the recipients of $1,000 each as this year's winning essayists.

Morley says she was inspired from the moment Daryl Corr from the Committee on Prizes made the announcement at a staff meeting that the topic would be "Fired With Enthusiasm!"

"Daryl explained that a committee member came up with the topic based on something Clark Kerr said once," says Morley. She refers to Kerr's statement "I entered the (UC) presidency the same way I left it --fired with enthusiasm!"

Morley says she feels a connection to Clark Kerr, considering "what he experienced out on the line with students during those years of strife." She, too, has had plenty of experience along those lines, and she felt there was something she wanted to say about it.

Morley's mother also came into play. "She is a talented writer," she says. "You could say that writing this essay was in part a tribute to her, for taking the time, all my life, to teach me what she knows."

Anna Moore's enthusiasm, on the other hand, is for her particular passion: mushrooms. A member of the San Francisco Mycological Society, Moore has spent plenty of time studying and hunting mushrooms, and writing in her journal, but she has never entered a writing contest before.

That she entered this one has to do with a writing workshop her entire department attended. "We enjoyed it so much," she says, "that when it was over, we continued to meet on our own.

"When we heard about this contest, we decided each of us should try writing something and entering it."

The annual Eric Hoffer Essay Contest, which is open to all campus members, began more than 20 years ago after the philosopher-author Hoffer donated some $10,000 to endow the prize. It is said, according to the Committee on Prizes' Corr, that the money was the sum of his earnings and retirement from a stint as resident philosopher at Berkeley during Clark Kerr's term.

Hoffer, a former dock worker who held on to a simple lifestyle even after he reached a measure of fame as a thinker, writer and adviser to presidents, maintained that anything worth saying could be said in a few hundred words. "People write thin books to tell what they know and thick books to cover up what they don't know" was one of his favorite maxims.

Thus, one of the main contest rules is that the essay must be no longer than 500 words.

The call for essays comes each fall, and each year the winning pieces are filed in the Bancroft Library.

And who comes up with the topics?

"It's the first and favorite business of the Academic Senate Committee on Prizes each fall," says Corr. "In the beginning the topics were mostly political in nature, but a few years ago we made a move toward a bit of whimsy and topics with a wider appeal."


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