Book Prize

2020 Book Prize Shortlist: Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection

The Modernist Studies Association has announced its short list for the 2020 MSA Book Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection. We offer our congratulations to all of the finalists.

WINNER: Alys Moody & Stephen Ross, eds., Global Modernists on Modernism: An Anthology (Bloomsbury)

Alys Moody and Stephen J. Ross’s Global Modernists on Modernism is a groundbreaking anthology that will have an immeasurable impact. It introduces carefully selected, edited, and annotated texts from a breathtakingly broad range of primary sources that will be integral to future scholarship and teaching. This is an anthology that is aware of how important the anthology has been to modernism, or as they put it, how “this process of assemblage and collection, of triage and sorting, has been central to the history of modernism’s reception.” In this way the volume, both in its editorial choices and its expert critical essays, offers a radical shift away from the discipline’s preoccupation with defining modernism, and instead aims to present an archive from which we might begin to understand the ways in which modernism has been differently understood around the world. As such it also seeks to “go beyond merely gesturing to the existence of modernists around the world, to defend the value of ‘global modernism’ as a critical hermeneutic.” The anthology begins with the brilliant and provocative “Ten Theses on Global Modernism”, providing a thematic “Alternate Table of Contents” with categories ranging from “Political and Social Formations” to “Artistic Movements and Styles” and “Institutions and Social Conditions of the Field.” In addition to drawing on Moody and Ross’s expertise, the volume also features vital and enlightening contributions of invited scholars as section editors and translators. Global Modernists on Modernism is the result of immense scholarship and will prove a model for future editions; for modernist literary studies it will be no less than indispensable, deftly transforming considerations of the literary, historical, and geographical scope of modernism.

HONORABLE MENTION: David James, ed., Modernism and Close Reading (Oxford University Press)

This landmark collection of essays takes the seemingly established combination of modernism and close-reading and probes it until new conceptual and theoretical genealogies emerge. Putting pressure on disciplinary assumptions, it examines and interrogates close reading’s privileged relation to modernism, suggesting that this affiliation no longer seems as inarguable as it once did. Putting these in conjunction – with full acknowledgement of both contemporary methodologies and the shifting commitments of both ‘modernism’, and ‘close-reading’ – proves enormously fruitful, and James’s introduction enriches and stimulates our understanding of these overlapping terms. Marshalling a joyfully diverse range of approaches and examples, the essays in this book, each sensational on its own terms, take the question in unexpected and imaginative directions. The book is divided into two sections. First is a history of modernist close-reading, which offers a magisterial but never linear narrative account of critical practice, always showing an alertness to the contingencies and contradictions therein. The second section, ‘Futures for Close Reading Modernism’, expands its purview to include ways closeness of reading, and the closeness – or distance – of modernism, are vital for critics today. This is a book with real things to say about the history of criticism, the quality of attentiveness, and their relationship to the practice and study of modernism right now. It is going to be an inescapable book for some time to come.

Elizabeth Pender & Cathryn Setz, eds., Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes's Modernism (Pennsylvania State University Press)

This exceptionally elegant volume gathers together new essays on Djuna Barnes, and shows anew her centrality to modernist studies. Edited with precision and care, it begins with a brilliant and authoritative introductory essay that rather effortlessly grasps hold of Barnes studies, and argues for a renewed and expanded engagement with her whole oeuvre. This is the collection, one feels, that will show the way, casting new light by way of essays that are influenced by a notable variety of approaches, including affect studies, animal/human relations, new thinking about print and media cultures, and the expansion of modernist studies more generally. The editors take their title from Barnes’s line that ‘there is always more surface to a shattered object than a whole object’ – an aesthetic manifesto that applies as much to the sparkling intellectual and critical diversity they have gathered together here as it does to these stimulating new ways to read Barnes’s work. As the editors say, those shattered surfaces tantalize further theoretical engagement; this collection will further vitalise those engagements, doing justice to Barnes with its daring multiplicity, sheer beauty, and intellectual verve.

Timothy Billings, ed., Cathay: A Critical Edition by Ezra Pound (Fordham University Press)

Cathay, the slim volume of poems that Ezra Pound “translated” from classical Chinese in 1915, has long been considered one of Pound’s crowning achievements and a cornerstone of modernism itself. Because Pound himself did not know Chinese and relied upon notes left behind by the American scholar Ernest Fenollosa to compose his own idiosyncratic versions, the collection has also been controversial from the start, spawning a century of fierce debate over the merits and flaws of Pound’s translations, modernism’s problematic engagement in cultural appropriation and Orientalism, and the practice and goals of translation itself. Enter this groundbreaking new critical edition, which, for the first time, presents Pound’s lapidary, moving poems alongside the original source material he drew upon to create Cathay. Thanks to Timothy Billings’ exhaustive editorial and archival efforts (including his heroic decoding of Fenollosa’s notoriously inscrutable handwriting), the famous “cribs” found in Fenollosa’s notebooks have been made available at last, transcribed and presented in a well-conceived, easy-to-use format. Instantly indispensable, this book will prove to be a pivotal moment in the history of Cathay’s reception. With three substantial scholarly introductions and meticulous, enlightening line-by-line glosses and detailed annotations, this beautifully-designed book wades sensitively into decades of contentious disagreement, error, and misunderstanding. As this edition brilliantly demonstrates, the poems of Cathay are less the work of one gifted, controversial American poet but rather the product of a fascinating chain of transmission – an elaborate game of telephone -- that crosses centuries, multiple languages, cultures, and far-flung continents. Immensely entertaining, insightful, and deeply learned, Billings is a consummate guide to the complexities and nuances of “the Cathay problem.” This dazzling, revelatory book is not only a goldmine for scholars of Pound and modernist poetry, but for anyone interested in either the theory and practice of translation or the story of how modernism emerges from densely interwoven, global networks of encounter and exchange.

Sara Crangle, ed., I’m Working Here: The Collected Poems of Anna Mendelssohn (Shearsman Books)

I’m Working Here introduces readers to the vast oeuvre of the experimental British poet Anna Mendelssohn. In form and content, Sara Crangle’s edition responds to Mendelssohn’s aesthetic, and the volume draws extensively on materials in Mendelssohn’s archive at the University of Sussex. Crangle provides thorough introductory materials engaging Mendelssohn’s poetic strategies and political views, as well as the modernist contexts to which she responded. Crangle’s introduction and detailed notes will be invaluable for future scholarship. The exceptional quality of this edition presents a strong indication that Mendelssohn will come to have a more vital presence in discussions of modernism, poetry, and literary experimentation.

MSA 2020 First Book Prize Committee
Julia Jordan (University College London), Chair
Andrew Epstein (Florida State University)
Amanda Golden (New York Tech)


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.

Please visit our Nominations page to recommend a book for this year's prize.
Visit our archive to see previous winners.