Published: June 19, 2014

English alumnus Dick Shahan recently made a $75,000 gift commitment to CU-Boulder — $50,000 of which established an endowment to create the Dick Shahan CU-Boulder Undergraduate Writing Competition, expected to generate an annual prize of $2,000 for a prose piece that features Boulder. The additional $25,000 will fund the Shahan Graduate Fellowships in the CU-Boulder English Department, providing an annual $1,000 research grant for an English graduate student.

The writing competition gives all undergraduate students at the university a chance to use their imaginations and to demonstrate their writing skills in a variety of different genres, because the competition will alternate between fiction and nonfiction each year. The graduate fellowship, offered to PhD, MFA and MA English students, provides financial assistance for research necessary to complete their graduate degree.

“The writing competition is the first to involve all CU-Boulder undergraduate students in a competition that focuses on the Boulder community, and it’s one of the larger prizes awarded to undergraduates from our department,” says Interim Chair David Glimp. “The graduate fellowship is another welcome source to help students relieve the financial pressures they ace when pursuing higher level education. It’s an added incentive to complete their graduate degree.”

Shahan says, “I started writing fiction while I was in a creative writing class as a sophomore at CU-Boulder, and as I continued writing, I never saw an opportunity or competition of this sort, especially one offered at a college or university and with a financial prize this large. This writing competition will help make wonderful connections between the university and the Boulder community, and will offer a great financial incentive plus the fun of competing to all university undergraduates.”

Shahan’s decision to initiate the two funds was triggered by a three-year span of severe adversity. Between 2011 and 2013, both of his parents passed away, and he suffered through several physically and emotionally draining experiences, including treatment for a broken jaw and stressful cyberknife radiation treatments for prostate cancer.

“When you go through the kind of adversity I went through, you develop a different perspective on life,” comments Shahan. “With the support of the inheritance from my parents’ estate, I really wanted to do something positive for others in my lifetime. What could I do that would bring joy and fun to others? A writing competition to celebrate Boulder seemed to be the perfect fit. Plus, I remember some very financially tough years that I went through as a graduate student. I wanted to offer support to those students who struggle to make it through. I wanted to send the message, ‘Don’t give up.’ ”

With the exception of two years between 1972 and 1974, Denver-native Shahan has lived in Boulder since 1967, when he enrolled as a freshman at the university and continued his education to earn a BA (double major in English literature and psychology), MA and PhD degrees. He completed his doctorate in 1985. Fifteen years of his life were spent on the university’s campus. He was an enthusiastic participant in CU-Boulder's Trivia Bowl in the late 1980s and remembers several high-water marks during the politically charged 60s and 70s, such as the takeover of the highway bridge into Boulder and the march from CU-Boulder to the city courthouse.

Shahan has strong ties to the Boulder community, working for several years in different retail businesses, teaching fiction-writing workshops and editing manuscripts. He has written music reviews and articles for the Colorado Daily and the Daily Camera. He now works for the Boulder Public Library, as he has for more than 14 years.

“Dick’s gift will be an incredible boost for our department and CU-Boulder students,” says Glimp. “Those of us who have been involved in the discussions with Dr. Shahan have been inspired by his generosity, as well as his ingenious approach to meeting students’ needs and creating connections between the university and the Boulder community. He is an extraordinary person and an incredible friend to our department, and students will benefit from his gift for many, many years to come.”

The Department of English will open the writing competition to undergraduate students beginning this fall with an entry deadline of Dec. 31. Judging of all entries will take place in early 2015 with a winner announced in the spring. English graduate students can apply for the fellowship opportunity in February 2015 with the winning recipient announced in April.