Book Prize

MSA Book Prize (for a book published in 2016)

The Modernist Studies Association has announced its short list for the 2017 MSA Book Prize. One of these five books will be presented as the award winner in Amsterdam at our 19th annual conference, August 10-13. We offer our congratulations to all of the finalists.

Sam Bardaouil, Surrealism in Egypt: Modernism and the Art and Liberty Group (I.B. Taurus, 2016)

Surrealism in Egypt historically and critically recuperates the Art and Liberty surrealist group in World War II Egypt. While recovering this late modernist network, it leverages the contingencies and exigencies of the group to question deep set assumptions about center and periphery as well as the critical habits that assume totalizing narratives of imperialism and Orientalism. This approach buttresses and challenges narratives of decolonization and their inherently Eurocentric focus on imperial power – it instead asks how Egyptian Surrealism extended outward and demanded global changes. Bardaouil establishes the enormous scope of the Art and Liberty movement, reaching from Spain to Syria and Cairo to Paris, but also and most effectively recovers long neglected original art and archives. The ready movement between primary materials in Arabic, French, and English brings this cosmopolitan group into coherence and demands attention from the wider study of late modernism. The “exhibition” pattern, or comparatist approach, is skilfully handled and made accessible to readers from different disciplines. With its attachment to the Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938–1948) exhibition, Surrealism in Egypt is a polemical yet persuasively readable promise, a promise to alter how modernist studies approaches the surrealist tradition.

Patrick Collier, Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1890–1930s (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

Modern Print Artefacts delivers a rich rethinking of the materiality of texts, resonantly and emphatically turning attention to the physical artefact from a broader modernism of periodicals yet demanding changes to what modernist studies means by “periodical studies.” The study relentlessly uncovers the importance of the material production of modernist works and print cultures even and especially where this dogs the comfortable assumptions of the field. In its conclusions, it offers a disciplinary reach across the field to ask how such discussions are limited or relegated to peripheral disciplinary venues. The polemic is demanding for modernist studies and urgently calls for both scholarly and professional soul searching, while at the same time the archival and critical investigations offered here give readers meaningful anchors in the material history of modernism.

Thomas S. Davis, The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life (Columbia University Press, 2016)

The Extinct Scene shows that the everyday has not only arrived in modernist studies but has continuing vitality in the quotidian of late modernism. The project is entirely readable with a consistently clear thesis entangling the everyday with a belated world systems approach to modernity. The intersemiotic correlation of Moore and H.D. is brilliantly crafted, and the demands for new approaches to Elizabeth Bowen and Henry Green are persuasive. The deft movement between theoretical insights that bridge the local and contingent with the global and inexorable, all in concert with textual exegesis and close reading, make it difficult to foresee future work on late modernism or the everyday that does not engage with The Extinct Scene.

Andrew Epstein, Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Attention Equals Life is the culmination of work from the past several years on modernism and the everyday, particularly American poetry moving toward the mid-century. The book is extremely readable for broad audiences and makes a compelling extension of discussions of the everyday, both from an American standpoint and with a focus on mid-century literary production. The nuanced attention to poetic language is convincing and the theoretical and philosophical argumentation is bested only by detailed analyses of poems, which are frequent and efficient. Close attention to the text itself is always diligently related to the American philosophical tradition so that textual analyses do not operate as mere illustrations but signal a new step in scholarship. This study challenges our perception of poetry as a genre and as a form – it raises new questions in terms of poetics, aesthetics, and ethics, and particularly how poetry works as a form of cultural and political action. Attention Equals Life is a completely convincing work.

Carrie J. Preston, Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching (Columbia University Press, 2016)

Learning to Kneel delivers an enticingly original approach to Noh and modernism that interweaves research and personal experience as well as scholarship and pedagogical experience. In doing so, it demands two readers: the scholar studying and the reader who is drawn through a personal narrative. The daring insertion of personal experience (studying and teaching) into literary scholarship demands a conceptual link between the experience of performance in Noh theatre, an embodied experience of inter-cultural communication, and textual scholarship in the literary history of modernist expropriations and biased inspirations by Americans and Europeans of Japan. This project requires and is met with a careful back-and-forth movement between translators, “bad” modernist Eurocentric adoptions and misunderstandings of foreign traditions, the familiar impossibility of translation, and ultimately the lived experience of staged performance. Movements between exoticization and personal experience are so deeply entangled here that Learning to Kneel calls to each reader differently.

2017 MSA Book Prize Committee
James Gifford (chair), Fairleigh Dickinson University
Isabelle Keller-Privat, Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès
Roger Rothman, Bucknell University


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 $600 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.

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