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Poet and Fiction Writer Wins Ratte Award

September 16, 2011

An outstanding writer and selfless peer, Riley Johnson B.A. ’11 nabbed this year’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest academic honor.

Johnson’s creative pursuits as an English major particularly impressed faculty members.

“What most distinguishes Riley is his extraordinary writing,” says Mary Szybist, associate professor of English and Johnson’s academic advisor. “He is ambitious in the best way: he is far less concerned with approval or validation than he is with pushing himself to go beyond what he already knows how to do as a writer. I have every faith that he is going to go on to write things that will astonish and humble us all.”

Throughout his time at Lewis & Clark, Johnson maintained an exceptional academic record, including membership in the prestigious Pamplin Society of Fellows. In 2010, he received the English department’s Dixon Award, which supported his literary research in the British Library archives in London.

Even more than his independent work abroad, Johnson’s contributions to academic discourse at Lewis & Clark set him apart. “He embodies literary generosity,” says Szybist. “Often he sees possibilities in other students’ work that I fail to see. He is inspiring not only as a writer and a thinker but as a human being.”

After graduation, Johnson returned to his native Montana to substitute teach in the public schools while applying to graduate programs. He plans to earn a Ph.D. in literature and an M.F.A. in fiction writing, so he can pursue a career as an English professor.

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