The end of civil discourse? Discuss, briefly

Eric HofferThe people of UC Berkeley generally pride themselves in their ability to argue a point and persuade others. For those who can do it briefly, in writing, the Fabilli Hoffer Essay Prize competition is now accepting entries.

This year’s topic is: “The end of civil discourse?” The best essays will win — as long as they’re no longer than 500 words.

The contest is open to staff, faculty and students. Prize money totaling $6,000 is available this year.

The prize was born in the words of the late philosopher-longshoreman Eric Hoffer, who once wrote: “Wordiness is a sickness of American writing.” Long before Twitter came along, he argued in a 1977 letter posted on the Fabilli Hoffer Prize website: “There is not an idea that cannot be expressed in 200 words.”

Hoffer lived as a longshoreman in San Francisco for 20 years, wrote 10 books (most famously The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements) and taught as an adjunct professor at Berkeley in the 1960s. Lili Fabilli was his longtime companion.

In a 1970 letter, he let the University of California regents know that he intended to give Berkeley at least $10,000 to endow a prize for 500-word essays judged solely on their originality of thought and excellence in writing. The first prize was given in the 1970-71 academic year for an essay on the topic “The Modern City: Survival or Suicide?”

This year’s essays are due by Nov. 30 at 4 p.m. Entries must be submitted in person, with a Cal ID, to 210 Sproul Hall. More information is available on the Honors and Prizes website.