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The Ridding Reading Prize 2024

2024 Ridding Reading Prize winners with the judges. winners are holding certificates

The annual Ridding Reading Prize took place in the Fellows’ Drawing Room on Monday 4 March 2024. The competition is a Girton tradition founded in honour of Caroline Mary Ridding, who won a Scholarship to Girton to read Classics in 1883 and became a renowned Sanskrit and Pali scholar.

The passages selected for the competition were largely in keeping with this year’s continued College theme of ‘A Just World?’. Those chosen for the first round were an extract from The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens and ‘I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream’, a poem about the experiences of asylum seekers by British-Somali author Momtaza Mehri. The judges were impressed by the willingness of all contestants to tackle these testing texts.

Six postgraduate and five undergraduate contestants read a range of subjects, mainly in the Arts and Humanities. The judges expressed the hope that in future competitions more students in science fields would come forward to compete.

The judging panel comprised Girton Fellows Dr Stuart Davis, Miss Judith Drinkwater, Dr Stephanie Lahey, and Professor Angela Roberts. They were joined by guest adjudicator Dr James Freeman, Medieval Manuscripts Specialist in the University Library.

Five contestants were chosen to go forward to the second round: Joseph Hanlon (2020, History), Maria Karinatan (2023, Classics), Andrew McLeod (2021, Classics), Gayatri Rajesh (2023, MPhil in Development Studies) and Eleanor Williams (2023, MPhil on Population Health Science).

The two prepared passages for this round were an extract from Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, a darkly humorous teenage take on the injustices of the English literature curriculum in the classroom, and an extract from John Donne’s poem Satire III, about the struggle between truth and justice on the one hand, and the temptation to abuse worldly power on the other. Each contestant was also given two minutes to prepare an unseen anonymous 14th century poem, written in a female voice in defence of female agency in sexual relationships and rejection of male sexual aggression.

This year, for the first time in the competition’s history, three prizes were on offer:

  • The judges were unanimous in awarding the Overall Winner Prize to Joseph Hanlon for his consistently well-judged and insightful readings of the challenging texts.
  • The inaugural Judges’ Prize was awarded to Maria Karinatan in recognition of her excellent handling of characterisation and narrative voice.
  • The inaugural Audience Prize was awarded to Gayathri Rajesh, as voted by members of the audience who had heard all eleven competitors read.

The evening began with a delicious buffet supper for competitors and judges, which was kindly organised by the Junior Bursar, Ms Maureen Hackett, and supplied by the excellent Catering team. During the Judges’ discussions, the audience were given an account of Caroline Ridding’s life and activities by the Librarian, Mrs Jenny Blackhurst, and treated to music from pianist Adam Titcombe, a 3nd year music undergraduate.

The thanks of the judges go to all the students who took part, and to everyone who contributed to making the evening enjoyable and entertaining. In particular they thank the Librarian, whose firm guidance and outstanding organisational acumen ensured the success and smooth running of the competition.

Photo caption:
L-R: Dr James Freeman (external adjudicator), Dr Stephanie Lahey, Maria Karinatan (winner of the Judges' Prize), Joseph Hanlon (winner of the Overall Prize), Gayathri Rajesh (winner of the Audience Prize), Dr Stuart Davis, Professor Angela Roberts and Judith Drinkwater (chair of the judging panel).