‘A public university,’ in 500 words or less

A lot of people at UC Berkeley have a lot to say about what it means to be a public university. For the student, faculty member or staffer who can say a lot about the weighty topic in 500 words or less, the Lili Fabilli and Eric Hoffer Essay Prize contest is now open.

Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer

The annual contest rewards brevity as well as “originality of thought and excellence in writing,” as American social writer Eric Hoffer wrote to the regents of the University of California in 1970, when he announced his decision to donate $10,000 to fund the prize. Hoffer elaborated on his call for brevity in a 1977 letter: “Wordiness is a sickness of American writing. Too many words dilute and blur ideas.” The letter is reproduced on the contest website.

Each year, Berkeley’s Committee on Prizes picks a topic for the contest; this year’s is “a public university.” Essays must be 500 words or less; the prize ranges from $750 to $1,000. The deadline for submission is Dec. 1.

Author of The True Believer (1951), among other books, Hoffer was known as the longshoreman philosopher. Many of his papers were bequeathed to Lili Fabilli Osborne, a family friend.

Read more — including the essays of past winners — on the contest website.