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 plus up to $500 toward travel expenses to the MSA Conference, where the award is presented. 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 orvisit our archive to see previous winners.
2014 MSA Book Prize Winner
The Modernist Studies Association awards its 2014 Book Prize to Linda Leavell's Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore (Farrar)
Built upon a solid foundation of archival materials and interviews, Holding On Upside Down is a rare delight and a groundbreaker, combining scholarly depth with vertical or upside-down pleasure. Written in a empathetic and entertaining style, it opens new avenues for reading and interpreting Moore’s poems. For decades, Moore has been off limits, cryptic, impersonal, hardly possible to make palpable. We were supposed to read this difficult modernist without a proper companion, a biography that might help make sense of her idiosyncratic poetics. It is as if the lenses had never been adjusted to see Moore and her poems. With Moore’s own concision, risks, manners and humor, Leavell distills her immense research into its essence, unveiling one of the most private poets in history. After Leavell’s book, the Moore poems you knew yesterday will never be the same.
Donna Krolik Hollenberg, A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov (U of California P)
This is an authoritative, thoroughly researched, and moving biography of a major poet’s life and work. Donna Hollenberg traces several strands of Levertov’s career: her poetry’s development and formative influences, her lifelong political activism, her intimate relationships, and her late religious conversion. Levertov’s life and career are deftly contextualized within the twentieth-century political and cultural milieu. Simultaneously, Hollenberg vividly details important events in Levertov’s personal life, including her childhood in England as the daughter of a Russian Hasidic father and a Welsh mother; her friendship (and falling out) with modern poet Robert Duncan; and her deep love for her troubled, charismatic sister Olga Levertoff. A Poet’s Revolution is a comprehensive, complex biography that offers a rich foundation for future study of Levertov’s life and work.
Saikat Majumdar, Prose of the World: Modernism and the Banality of Empire (Columbia)
Prose of the World deftly reveals the oppressive stratagems of boredom engendered by colonialists in order to aggrandize their own glamorous yearnings. With another turn of the screw, it reveals how the colonists themselves become “infected” by a deadly boredom. The book sparkles, though its central subject is the cultivation of “a form of negative aesthetic” in Anglophone fiction produced in the colonies. In essence, the book deftly undercuts our impulses to collapse modernisms of the metropolis and the periphery. Banality, almost anti-intuitively, becomes the impetus for narrative, a tactic deployed variously by Mansfield (New Zealand), Joyce (Ireland), Zoe Wicomb (South Africa) and Amit Chaudhuri (India). While Prose of the World focuses on these four figures, it calls forth an array of other writers, critics and theorists, making the book a spectacular adventure in literary criticism.
Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture (Stanford)
Slow Print offers a rich, meticulously researched, clear, and thought-provoking trajectory of “long-modernism” in late-Victorian radical print culture. Victorian radicals seeking an alternative to the speed, scale, and capitalist commercialism of print found an alternative in “slow” print: small Victorian presses and private publications advocating revolutionary ideas. Gesturing diversely toward the “living” language of oral forms, socialist utopias, and the materiality of the book, Slow Print is at once lively, ambitious, wide-ranging, and tightly argued.Among Miller’s well-documented examples are William Morris’s publications in the Kelmscott Press and Commonweal; Shaw’s socialist dramas; socialist theosophist presses associated with Annie Besant and Edward Carpenter; and small presses offering “free print” on sex radicalism. A must-read for modernists and Victorians, this path-breaking study valuably elucidates a “constitutive moment” in late Victorianism behind the 20th-century little magazines, small presses, and publically censored novels.
2014 MSA Prize Committee:
Susan McCabe, USC (chair)
Cassandra Laity, Drew University
Marie Smart, Baylor University