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Wonderland Award showcases whimsy and fresh takes on Alice author Lewis Carroll

The annual competition celebrates the creative talents of students from USC and other Southern California institutions

The 13th annual USC Libraries Wonderland Award competition again evoked the fanciful spirit of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.

Three USC students from the Interactive Media and Games division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and another from the USC Thornton School of Music earned first prize at the event.

Yiwen Dai, Kelsey Rice, Jung-Ho Sohn and Uriel Vanchestein topped the field of two dozen participants from USC and other Southern California institutions with “What Is It but a Dream.”

Their work includes a handbound red cloth book — similar to the first editions of the two Alice books — that operates in conjunction with an augmented-reality iPhone app, like a digital looking-glass. Playing cards keyed to the app can be inserted throughout the book, giving the viewer a chance to create their own Carrollian narratives.

Azusa Pacific commercial music major Steven Schmidt took home the $10,000 Charles Dodgson Prize for “Mad World: A New Musical” based on the life and works of Carroll (the pen name of Oxford professor Charles Dodgson).

For the first time, award sponsor Linda Cassady bestowed the prize for the original musical, which Schmidt has produced and reworked since 2010 along with friends Cristian Guerrero and Chandler Patton. The submission included the full script, libretto, production photos and audio recordings.

We started writing this when we were in high school, and it is something that has kept us together for a long time.

Steven Schmidt

“We started writing this when we were in high school, and it is something that has kept us together for a long time. There were profound moments when it felt like the spirit of Charles Dodgson was in the room with us,” Schmidt said in accepting the award at Doheny Memorial Library on April 20. “I was excited to come here and be surrounded by so many other people who were touched by the diversity of his work — in the arts, in logic and math.”

The second-place prize went to cinematic arts student Alex Haney for Iconoclast. The short film, which focuses on one person’s struggle to balance their African-American, Jewish and gay identities, incorporates a multitude of familiar Carrollian images in fresh ways.

And now a word for our sponsor

Welcoming the crowd to the ceremony, USC Libraries Dean Catherine Quinlan recognized the inspirational support of the competition’s founder.

“Linda Cassady has been the guiding hand — and generous sponsor of the prizes — that makes this award so delightful and so meaningful to our students,” Quinlan said. “Through the Wonderland Award, Linda shares her playful spirit, academic vision and inspiring generosity with all of us every year. I’m incredibly grateful for all that Linda and George Cassady do for our students, our libraries and our university.”

Several judges in addition to sponsor Linda Cassady evaluated the submissions: Peter Hanff, deputy director of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; poet and USC professor of English Molly Bendall; USC professor of cinematic arts Lisa Mann; USC PhD candidate and Mellon Digital Humanities fellow Amanda Kennell; and last year’s first-place winner, Sara Fenton.

The Wonderland Award is an annual multidisciplinary event that showcases the creative and interpretive talents of students from USC and other Southern California institutions as they transform the life and writing of Lewis Carroll into new creative and scholarly works.

All student submissions become a permanent part of the G. Edward Cassady, MD, and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady, RN, Lewis Carroll collection, which George Cassady donated to the USC Libraries in 2000 and from which students draw inspiration and raw material for their Wonderland entries. The libraries have published a series of anthologies — titled the Liddell Books — highlighting the submissions and will soon share all of the winning entries from the past 13 years on the USC Digital Library.

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Wonderland Award showcases whimsy and fresh takes on Alice author Lewis Carroll

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