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Fabilli-Hoffer judge names three first-place winners
Writing on 'what I'd really like to do,' two campus staffers realize glory, enhanced liquidity

| 10 March 2005

Two campus employees and an undergraduate English major are each $1,000 richer this week, thanks to their eloquent ruminations on the topic "But What I'd Really Like to Do Is.." Out of a field of 34 entries, the anonymous judge for this year's Lili Fabilli and Eric Hoffer Essay Contest selected three first-place essays - by Asian Studies student-affairs officer Sandra Wulff; Larry Ruth, a policy specialist and academic coordinator at the campus's Center for Forestry; and undergrad English major Erin Cooper.

Read the winning essays
by Larry Ruth and Sandra Wulff
The good news, delivered via e-mail from the Committee on Prizes, was followed promptly by the cool thousand, reports Wulff ("the quickest deposit into my account I've ever had from the university"). Having taken to writing essays for her own enjoyment, the campus staffer is "psyched" not merely because of the "found money," but by the "legitimization" of her until-now private scribblings.

Her essay contemplates how the object of one's dreams is sometimes not as compelling, ultimately, as the pleasure inherent in desiring. "I liked this essay because it was equivocal," the judge wrote. ".It didn't provide an easy answer, but gave a thoughtful response to the concept behind the topic."

But what Larry Ruth "would really like to do," he says in his own essay, is to retrieve his memories. Ruth chose to write about the aftermath of a bicycle accident last spring, which erased (at least temporarily) from his memory "two whole days, and parts of two more" (along with quotidian details like "the name of that Chinese restaurant on Solano"). The judge called Ruth's piece a "deeply personal essay that does not fall into the easy and deadly traps of a personal essay. There are no pitiful or heart-wrenching adjectives, but some very beautiful lines."

A Berkeley native, Ruth remembers reading columns in his youth by Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman/philosopher for whom the annual contest is named, in the San Francisco Chronicle. "He would essentially apply philosophical propositions to current events, social issues, city politics, state politics, Vietnam," Ruth recalls. "He was always interested in the complexities, rather than the simple rhetorical riffs that one often sees."

Hoffer believed that every idea could be expressed in less than 200 words. The essay contest he endowed in 1970 - the only Committee on Prizes competition open to staff and faculty as well as students - allows contestants an extra 300 words to express themselves on the year's designated topic ("Are Books Dead?," "If Only.," and "What Were They Thinking?" being three recent examples).

The Berkeleyan frequently publishes staffers' winning Fabilli-Hoffer essays (as we do again this year), and CNR's Ruth has read many of them over the years. "I've written something that is not very philosophical in the sense that Hoffer might have wished," he says. "But I like to think that he would have been pleased by the diversity of entries the contest receives."