Each year, the Modernist Studies Association seeks nominations for its Book Prize, awarded to a book published in the previous year. A panel of judges determines the book that made the most significant contribution to modernist studies. The winner receives $1,000. A book first published in another year will not be eligible for the prize. This exclusion applies even if a new edition (paperback or revised, for example) was published in the award year. Please visit our Nominations page to recommend a book for this year's prize or visit our archive to see previous winners.
MSA Book Prize Winner (for a book published in 2018)
Lyndsey Stonebridge, Placeless People: Writing, Rights, and Refugees (Oxford UP)
Lyndsey Stonebridge’s profound, moving and timely book combines a critique of the human rights regime with a reinvestigation of literary modernism and modernist humanist thought. With eloquence and tenacity, Placeless People reveals how modernist assessments and lived experiences of statelessness and rightlessness force us to rethink what we mean by the ethics and practice of human rights today. Marrying close reading, archival insight, and in-depth understanding of the theory and practice of human rights, the book tackles one of the most urgent contemporary issues while shedding new light on past contexts. Stonebridge leads us patiently through a compelling series of mid-twentieth century texts and the experiences of or relating to placelessness that informed them: Hannah Arendt’s writings on human rights, Kafka’s novels as a form of fiction perfectly corresponding to the demise of rights and Brecht’s definition of the refugee as a “a messenger of ill tidings”; George Orwell’s 1984 as haunted by the ill-fated voyages of refugee boats at the beginning and in the aftermath of the Second World War; Simone Weil’s political-theological identification with the rightless and its legacy in the early 1950s films of Roberto Rossellini; Samuel Beckett’s work with the Irish Red Cross and his denouncement of facile humanitarianism; Dorothy Richardson’s journalistic writing on mass displacement and Thedore A. Morde’s 1950 documentary Sands of Sorrow; and W. H. Auden’s late 1930s poems juxtaposed to Yousif M. Qasmiyeh’s poetry of the borderline from the 2000s. Constructing deep-time links between extraordinary texts created by people in extraordinary circumstances and tracing the consistent failure of governments and international policy to address the scandal of statelessness and paradoxes of citizenship, Stonebridge’s Placeless People demonstrates powerfully why impassioned readings of modernist texts and contexts continue to matter.
MSA Book Prize Committee (for a book published in 2018)
Sanja Bahun (chair), University of Essex
MSA First Book Prize Winner (for a book published in 2018)
Robert Stilling, Beginning at the End: Decadence, Modernism, and Postcolonial Poetry (Harvard University Press)
This major publication gives new and global life to decadence. Robert Stilling argues that aestheticism and literary decadence, movements deeply associated with the decline of European empires, provided a rich source of inspiration for postcolonial writers and artists ranging from Agha Shahid Ali, Derek Walcott, and Wole Soyinka to Yinka Shonibare, Bernardine Evaristo, and Derek Mahon. What initiates this colloquy is the shared conviction that only a decadent poetics could capture the historical sensation of “beginning at the end.” Stilling beautifully describes how decadence allowed these figures to mediate between the desire for an autonomous individualism and the demands of burgeoning cultural nationalisms, which saw collective futures arising out of Europe’s fall. Individual chapters inventively pair fin-de-siècle and postcolonial writers, and offer masterful co-elaborations of artifice and beauty in the contexts of globalized industrialization and underdevelopment. By moving across Oscar Wilde and Ali, J.K. Huysmans and Evaristo, Henry James and Mahon, Stilling shows readers how a comparative and transnational approach to modernism can challenge the usual before-and-after of literary history and the critical shorthand we use to distinguish periods and styles from one another. This is a deeply learned and original work that shows the necessity of bringing modernist and postcolonial studies together.
MSA First Book Prize Committee
Brian Glavey, chair (University of South Carolina)
2019 MSA Book Prize Winner for for an edition, anthology, or essay collection
Ned Blackhawk and Isaiah Lorado Wilner, eds., Indigenous Visions: Rediscovering the World of Franz Boas (Yale UP, 2018)
Franz Boas has received considerable attention from scholars in recent decades, so his roles formulating the disciplinary methods of anthropology, countering pseudo-scientific racisms, and mentoring a highly diverse and influential group of intellectuals are well known. However, this extraordinarily well researched volume edited and introduced by Blackhawk and Wilner demonstrates that Boas’s work accomplished so much, in large part, because it emerged out of a remarkably broad assemblage of Indigenous collaborators and because it formulated agency rather than passivity regarding the knowledge production of colonized and dispossessed peoples. In viewing Boas as a globalist thinker through his engagements with Native peoples, the contributors to this volume pose ambitious, fresh insights regarding the implications of Boas’s work across disciplinary boundaries and geographic regions, including Europe, African, and Latin America. Far from a celebration of Boas, essays also point to many new lines of critique in his work, including his assessments of Indigenous peoples’ futures. Approaching Boas as a theorist, practitioner, and facilitator of globalist inquiry, this scrupulously researched, richly evidenced, lucidly written volume challenges existing views of the politics and poetics of anthropology in a timely, illuminating way for 21st century discussions of global, regional, and local cultures for a wide range of disciplines.
2019 MSA Book Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection Committee
Loren Glass, University of Iowa (chair)