Book Prize

MSA Prize for a First Book

The Modernist Studies Association has announced its short list for the 2016 MSA Prize for a First Book. One of these four 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.

Emily C. Bloom, The Wireless Past: Anglo-Irish Writers and the BBC, 1931-1968 (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Despite being distinct in terms of politics and aesthetics, W. B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice, Elizabeth Bowen and Samuel Beckett are bound together by their extensive engagement with the radio medium. In The Wireless Past, Emily Bloom examines how modern literature came to be shaped by this new medium, for which writers were encouraged to use interior monologues, first-person narration and an intimate mode of address. But Yeats, MacNeice, Bowen and Beckett also developed distinctive techniques for conceptualizing radio publics, as Bloom shows in each chapter. Yeats’s radio poetry evoked traditional spaces for oral poetry such as the Greek stage and then showed the impossibility of these spaces for modern poetics. MacNeice’s poetry and radio scripts highlighted the complexities of communication in wartime, as radio came to be used as a powerful propaganda tool but also as a way to connect people isolated by travel restrictions. The Wireless Past makes a significant contribution to the field of “radio modernism” – a field that has grown rapidly as a major research trend in modernist studies.

Noam M. Elcott, Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

Noam M. Elcott thrillingly flips our attention from the illuminating force of modern media to the elemental condition of darkness that lies behind it. Beginning with the black screen of Jules-Étienne Marey’s Physiological Station and the darkened house of Richard Wagner’s Festspielhaus, Elcott delivers a genealogy of 19th- and early-20th-century media experiments that were built upon an apparatus of darkness—with varying material supports, technologies, and effects on the perception of bodies and space. Without an understanding of darkness, Elcott shows, we miss much of what is most modern about the cinema of Georges Méliès and the avant-garde productions of Bauhaus master Oskar Schlemmer. Elcott’s “media archeology” not only reveals an intermedial dispositif of artificial darkness underlying modern art but it deeply enriches the notion of darkness itself. By clarifying the dark surround that until now we have not seen for the light, Artificial Darkness vivifies the very ground through which our modern figures are conceived.

Cóilín Parsons, The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature (Oxford University Press, 2016)

The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature presents a new map of Irish modernism. Parsons's account of the Ordnance Survey reveals this state-sponsored mapping project of the nineteenth century to be a compelling ur-text for comprehending formal literary innovations. His lively account of the genealogy of the Survey -- which notably plotted an unprecedented scale of six inches to one mile, necessitating a new order of detail to fill in its expanded grids -- launches revelatory readings of the Survey archive as a dialectics of the epistemological interventions of colonial governance. This deep dive into the archive critically reframes literary adventures of scale in Synge, Joyce, and, finally, Beckett. Parsons has mapped the Ordnance Survey itself within global arcs of imperial knowledge, and The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature offers rich literary payoffs that demonstrate the thorough imbrication of mapping within modernism.

Richard Jean So, Transpacific Community: America, China, and the Rise and Fall of a Cultural Network (Columbia University Press, 2016)

Transpacific Community returns to humanist principles as a vital mode for comprehending a transpacific network of public intellectuals in the interwar period. By attending to the use and effect of liberal concepts -- strikingly, So takes on "democracy" as a key term -- the study performs a number of critical interventions: it argues for the efficacy of humanist ideals as communication; provides a network model for literary community; and revises the space of the Pacific as a coeval common ground. These major claims work through well-researched accounts of the literary forms and materials marshaled by five writers: Agnes Smedley, Pearl Buck, Raul Robeson, Lin Yutang, and Lao She. This is a surprising constellation of figures whose significance to each other So convincingly demonstrates, and it is with exceptional rigor and verve that Transpacific Community presents a revelatory cultural network.

2017 MSA First Book Prize Committee
Josephine Park, chair (University of Pennsylvania)
Nell Andrew (The University of Georgia)
Lise Jaillant (Loughborough 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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Please visit our Nominations page to recommend a book for this year's prize.
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