Charles Dodgson Makes Surprise Appearance at USC Libraries Wonderland Award

Posted by Tyson Gaskill

USC Libraries Dean Catherine Quinlan (center) with Wonderland Award judges and winners

Three USC students from the Interactive Media and Games division of the School of Cinematic Arts, and another from the Thornton School of Music, earned first prize at the thirteenth-annual USC Libraries Wonderland Award competition. Yiwen Dai, Kelsey Rice, Jung-Ho Sohn, and Uriel Vanchestein topped the field of two dozen participants from USC and other institutions around Southern California with “What Is It but a Dream.”

Their work includes a hand-bound 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 may 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 surprise $10,000 Charles Dodgson Prize for “Mad World: A New Musical,” based on the life and works of Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Oxford professor Charles Dodgson). Award sponsor Linda Cassady bestowed the prize for the first time ever to the original musical, which the composer has been producing and reworking since 2010 along with two other 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. 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 a ceremony in Doheny Memorial Library on Thursday, April 20. “I was excited to come here today 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 imagery in new ways.

In welcoming the crowd to the ceremony, Dean Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries recognized the inspirational support of the annual 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 award sponsor Linda Cassady assessed the submissions: Peter Hanff, deputy director of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library; 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 competition showcasing 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, M.D., and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady, R.N., 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 thirteen years on the USC Digital Library.

For more information about the award and the Cassady Lewis Carroll Collection, visit