Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

Burke Prize in Rhetoric

Burke Prize in Rhetoric

The annual Kenneth Burke Prize in Rhetoric, awarded to the best essay written by a graduate student in one of Penn State’s liberal arts disciplines on the subject of rhetoric in its many forms—as historical, critical, or theoretical discourse.
Submitted essays might address pedagogical methods or issues; engage in textual criticism of significant documents; revisit varieties of rhetorical theory or develop new theoretical models; examine the disciplinary history of rhetoric in its many permutations; or demonstrate the value of rhetorical inquiry to research on culture, race, sex and gender, contemporary political phenomena, religion, science and technology, and so on. 

Essays should reflect ongoing or recently completed scholarship. Submissions will be evaluated anonymously by two rhetoric faculty members (one each from Communication Arts and Sciences and English). They will be evaluated based on their scholarly significance, methodological rigor (in structure and argumentation), compositional excellence, and evidentiary persuasiveness.

$500 will be awarded to the selected author. The Burke Prize will be awarded at the Center for Democratic Deliberation banquet.

Application Process

Please do not submit essays previously submitted for the prize. Submissions should consist entirely of unpublished work.

Submissions should consist of two separate electronic files:

  1. A title page with the author’s name and contact information 
  2. A manuscript free of identifying author information

Contact Center for Democratic Deliberation Director Xiayoe You at with questions about the Burke Prize or the Burke Lecture.

Past Recipients

2020: Curry Kennedy, Department of English: “Not Instruction, but Provocation’: Clarity, the Divinity School Controversy, and Emerson’s Rhetorical Imaginary of Provocative Obscurity”

Jeffrey Nagel, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences: “Embodied Silence and Ambiguous Identities: Queerness and Refusal in Franklin Kameny’s Congressional Testimony”

2019: Michael Gabriel Young, Department of English: “‘I Know Who You Are’: Cultic Rhetorical Appeals and The Rhetoric of Recognition”

2018: Emily N. Smith, Department of English, “‘One Shot’ Harris and the Pittsburgh Courier: Photojournalism and Community Historiography”

2017: Gregory Coles, Department of English, “The Exorcism of Language: Reclaimed Derogatory Terms and Their Limits”

2016: Dominic Manthey, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, “Remembering Indigenous Education: The ‘Save Old Main’ Movement”

2015: Jeremy Cox, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, “‘They Died the Spartan’s Death’: Historical Allusion, The Alamo, and Tropes of Public Memory”

2014: William O. Saas, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, “Money as Corporate Speech: Re-ReadingCitizens United through Heterodox Money Theory”

2013: Laura Michael Brown, Department of English, “Silent Protest: Bennett College Women and the 1960 Greensboro Student Sit-ins”

2012: Sarah Kornfield, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, “The E-man-ci-pation of Jeannie: Feminist Doppelgangers on the U.S. Television”

2011: Devon Brackbill, Department of English

2010: Jason Maxwell, Department of English, “Kenneth Burke and Fredric Jameson at the Limits of Pluralism”