New York, NY – 4 December 2012 – The Modern Language Association of America today announced it is awarding its forty-third annual James Russell Lowell Prize to Simon Gikandi, of Princeton University, for his book Slavery and the Culture of Taste, published by Princeton University Press, and to Stephen Greenblatt, of Harvard University, for his book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, published by W. W. Norton. Andrew F. Jones, of the University of California, Berkeley, has received honorable mention for his book Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture, published by Harvard University Press. The prize is awarded annually for an outstanding book—a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography—written by a member of the association.
The James Russell Lowell Prize is one of fifteen awards that will be presented on 5 January 2013, during the association’s annual convention, to be held in Boston. The selection committee members were Andrew Cole (Princeton Univ.); Andrew Elfenbein (Univ. of Minnesota); Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola (Univ. of Michigan); Daniel Kim (Brown Univ.); and Carlos Vega (Wellesley Coll.), chair. The committee’s citation for Gikandi’s book reads:
Simon Gikandi’s impressively thorough study Slavery and the Culture of Taste asks us to confront the deep roots of eighteenth-century aesthetics in the Atlantic slave trade. Ranging among literature, biography, art, and music, Gikandi reorients our gaze to let us see how ideas of taste and politeness depended on the economic and philosophical products of slavery. His deeply researched book probes the mind of its eighteenth-century subjects to ponder how they reconciled the violence of slavery with their aspirations to gentility. Just as important, Gikandi analyzes the allure of aesthetic activity to refashion the subjectivity of the slave. The power of Gikandi’s book lies in asking difficult questions about a difficult subject with unflagging scholarly courage.
Simon Gikandi is Robert Schirmer Professor of English at Princeton University and editor of PMLA, the official journal of the Modern Language Association. He was born in Kenya and graduated with a BA in literature from the University of Nairobi. He was a British Council Scholar at the University of Edinburgh, from which he graduated with an MLitt in English studies. He has a PhD in English from Northwestern University. He is the author of many books and articles, including Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, which was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2004. He is coauthor of The Columbia Guide to East African Literature in English since 1945 and is coeditor of The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature and the editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of African Literature. Current projects include “This Thing Called English: The Colonized and Their Books” and “Modernism” and editing volume 11 of The Oxford History of the Novel in English, entitled “The Novel in Africa and the Atlantic World.”