Book Prize

MSA Book Prize (for a book published in 2019)

The Modernist Studies Association has announced its short list for the MSA Book Prize (for a book published in 2019). We offer our congratulations to all of the finalists.

Jacob Edmond, Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media (Columbia University Press, 2019)

To praise the originality of Jacob Edmond’s account of modern poetry might sound rather ironic given the premise of the book, but the sheer ingenuity on display—as Edmond assembles poets from dozens of countries, poems in multiple platforms, and a dizzying array of technologies—is truly impressive.  We now appreciate the unoriginality that Pound intended in “Make it new,” but Edmond shows how poetry can be reproduced, chopped, appropriated, hacked, retranslated, and otherwise remediated in ways that Pound could not have imagined in the pre-digital era.  What this introduces, too, is a new velocity of reproduction and reproducibility: poetry circulates unoriginally—yet with great creativity—in an instant, Edmond shows, from the Caribbean to China to Russia to the United States and back in the blink of an eye.  And it does so in wildly unexpected circuits: part of the book’s beauty is its ability to unpack putatively high and low forms, from the experimental avant-garde to cutup Twitter poems, in which poetry now travels.  But there is nothing either Romantic or romantic about Edmond’s book; instead, it is a canny story of media itself in an age of Western dominance, of poetry’s imbrication in it and response to it, and of authors like M. NourbeSe Philip, Yi Sha, Caroline Bergvall, and Dmitri Prigov—along with many others—formulating and reformulating adaptable poetics that anonymous contributors around an unequal world continue to remix daily.  The book therefore takes seriously its work to demystify, through its motif of the paradoxical “master copy,” our own enduring stories of originality that the media environments we inhabit every minute remind us must constantly be rethought.

Benjamin Kahan, The Book of Minor Perverts: Sexology, Etiology, and the Emergences of Sexuality (University of Chicago Press, 2019)

Benjamin Kahan’s book is unlike many in modernist studies. Taking center stage are few major texts or figures from the era, but instead, the “thousand aberrant sexualities” (Foucault) that, over time, were reduced primarily to one all-encompassing, internally contradictory diagnosis of “homosexuality.” Kahan returns to the archives of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century sexology, where a host of charged and divergent figures with sexualities difficult to taxonomize and capture (necrophiliacs, nymphomaniacs, statue-fondlers) were scrutinized in journals and labs alike. This book’s well-researched and theoretically complex account unpacks the ways in which modern queer studies and sexuality studies have drawn on, contested, and revised the notions of emergence itself that were passed down from this era. Kahan engages with Sedgwick’s field-shaping legacy, but his primary focus is a question that Sedgwick did not take up, and that contemporary queer studies had largely avoided because of its implications for right-wing accounts of homosexual origins: the deep history of (pseudo-)genetic theories of same-sex etiologies. This book is a study of patterns, modalities, paradigms, and speciations as much as it is a study of forgotten novels, medical treatises, and psychology manuals. With verve and insight at every turn, Kahan tells the captivating story of figures lost to history, strays who have been cut out from grand narratives because they fit neither comfortably nor even uncomfortably in the ways we think about sexuality in the present. By recovering them, Kahan helps us recover a lost world of thought itself and the bodies that it once located in time and space.

Catherine Keyser, Artificial Color: Modern Food and Racial Fictions (Oxford University Press, 2019)

In Artificial Color, Catherine Keyser brilliantly shows how critical eating studies advances our understanding of early twentieth century racial theories and their centrality to modern American fiction. Keyser assembles a rich archive that includes nutritional tracts, guides for food tourism, and raw food recipes as she demonstrates the depth and breadth of Harlem Renaissance and Lost Generation writers’ engagements with cultures and technologies of food. In inventive chapters on Jean Toomer, George Schuyler, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, and Dorothy West, Keyser weaves together meticulous historical research, dazzling close readings, and trenchant engagements with contemporary theories of embodiment, materiality, race, and gender. She reveals how, in the era of Jim Crow segregation and the “one drop” rule, writers turned to food to generate alternative racial fictions that exposed the artificiality of whiteness but also the material force of white supremacy. In the process, she traces the racial history of soda bubbles, hydroponics, orange juice, foraged mushrooms, and processed meats as well as their place in the racial imaginaries of early twentieth century fiction. This sophisticated, incisive book explores literature’s capacity to imagine what might be, while detailing the intertwined histories of food and race that determined what was—and is. In our moment of flourishing “foodie” culture, resurgent white nationalism, and expansive Black protest, Artificial Color is a timely and important book.

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.

Sarah Street and Joshua Yumibe, Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s (Columbia University Press, 2019)

In this dynamic book, Sarah Street and Joshua Yumibe provide a sweeping account of how color became a hallmark of modernity in Europe and North America. While it is a cliché to describe the 1920s as bold and energetic, Street and Yumibe tell a new story about how a color industry involving film, fashion, print culture, architecture, and design changed the look and feel of modern life. Street and Yumibe show that, not only were 1920s films often in color rather than black and white, but also they were at the heart of a set of experiments in color that circulated internationally across different media. One of Chromatic Modernity’s greatest accomplishments and contributions is its comparative approach. In mapping the chromatic culture of the 1920s, it brings together artistic, commercial, philosophical, and scientific ventures; avant-garde and popular cultural forms; various North American and European film industries; as well as multiple mediums and forms of cultural production. From accounts of the hybrid processes of coloring films to analyses of how color became central to emerging aesthetic philosophies and a flash-point in debates about gender, race, sensation, and popular culture, the book’s depth and breadth attest to Street and Yumibe’s remarkable archival research and deft comparative analysis. Street and Yumibe’s exceptional book revises our understanding of 1920s film by showing how central color was to developments in cinema as well as how cinema was essential to modern chromatic culture.

MSA 2019 Book Prize Committee (2020)
Gayle Rogers, Chair
Leah Flack
Elizabeth Sheehan

About

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. 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.

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