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 2019)
Nadia Nurhussein, Black Land: Imperial Ethiopianism and African America (Princeton University Press, 2019)
In this field-changing book, Nadia Nurhussein brings together and reorients a remarkable number of important currents that modernist studies has alternately gathered and overlooked in the past two decades, from global solidarity movements to Black and Black diasporic studies. Nurhussein focuses on the real and imagined state of Ethiopia, an exceptional space in Africa in the early twentieth century that transfixed the minds of many Black writers. To Pauline Hopkins, Claude McKay, George Schuyler, Langston Hughes, and to their white counterparts and to many lesser-known figures, the anti-imperial empire Ethiopia represented a bewildering bundle of contradictions at once Biblical and futuristic. It was an idealized, mystical site that prompted Du Bois’s romantic wonder, the Rastafarian faith, the hypermasculine cultism around Haile Selassie, the dreamworld of Hopkins’s Of One Blood, and far away, even the notorious Dreadnought Hoaxers proclaimed themselves Abyssinians. Nurhussein follows not only the literature, but the vast array of cultural products that African American imaginings of Ethiopia yielded through its putative “originary blackness,” all juxtaposed with their responses to racialized violence in the United States. Nurhussein’s book seamlessly weaves together accounts of wars, philosophy, poetry, the Black press, visual archives, and much more; one is left in awe of the author’s ability to narrate this gripping, expansive story itself. And still, not to be taken for granted, Nurhussein brings to life—right now—her subjects, as agents attempting to work out urgent, complex, and ultimately unresolvable geopolitical contradictions through literature.
MSA 2019 Book Prize Committee (2020)
Gayle Rogers, Chair
MSA First Book Prize Winner (for a book published in 2019)
Cloutier, Jean-Christophe. Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature. Columbia University Press, 2019.
Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature by Jean-Christophe Cloutier is an original exploration of the creation, silent waiting, and spectral existence of African American writers’ archival legacies. The author delivers on a great number of levels, recounting a suspenseful scholarly story of his excavations within archival collections. These led to the discovery in 2009 of Claude McKay’s once-lost satirical novel Amiable with Big Teeth (written in 1941), which Cloutier then co-edited and published in 2017 and, later, of the uncatalogued manuscript for Ann Petry’s The Street (published in 1946). Cloutier’s description of the precarious trajectories of letters, notes, and manuscripts through time, in turn, leads to a powerful argument about African American authors’ archival sensibilities and their own inherent understanding of their fragile legacies. A significant contribution not only to modernist studies but a number of constituencies in the humanities, Shadow Archives enacts and argues for immersive engagements with archival labyrinths as a way to forge new disciplinary futures.
MSA 2019 First Book Prize Committee (2020)
Kristin Bluemel, Chair
María del Pilar Blanco
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)