Britt Rusert receives honorable mention for MLA First Book Prize
Friday, December 14, 2018
Friday, December 14, 2018
The Modern Language Association of America recently announced it is awarding its twenty-fifth annual Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book. Listed among two honorable mentions for the award is Britt Rusert, associate professor in the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for her book Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture, published by New York University Press.
The MLA Prize for a First Book was established in 1993. It is awarded annually for the first book-length publication of a member of the association that is a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography.
The MLA Prize for a First Book is one of eighteen awards that will be presented on 5 January 2019, during the association’s annual convention, to be held in Chicago. The members of the selection committee were Dympna Carmel Callaghan (Syracuse Univ.); Margaret Homans (Yale Univ.); Todd C. Kontje (Univ. of California, San Diego); Yoon Sun Lee (Wellesley Coll.), chair; and Phillip Usher (New York Univ.).
The committee’s citation for Rusert’s book reads:
Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture constructs a new archive, expanding what constitutes science in the antebellum United States to include fugitive projects ranging from a black gravedigger’s authoritative knowledge of human skulls to Sarah Mapps Douglass’s health activism among African American women in Philadelphia. It shows not only how such projects refuted dominant, white supremacist racial science that made black bodies into objects of exhibition and experimentation but also how they mobilized empiricism to advocate for the equal personhood and emancipation of black subjects. Exploring with subtlety and tact the outer limits of this archive where, because of slavery’s ban on literacy, further acts of scientific inquiry remain unrecorded, Britt Rusert makes readers newly aware of the courage and innovative thinking present in early African American culture.
In addition to her position in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, Rusert is the coeditor of W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. Rusert received her PhD from Duke University. Her research and teaching focus on African American literature and visual culture, Afrofuturism, speculative fiction, science and technology studies, gender and sexuality, and critical theory, especially Marxism, psychoanalysis, and black radical thought. She is currently working on a monograph about William J. Wilson’s ―Afric-American Picture Gallery,‖ a text that imagines the first museum of black art in the United States. With Adrienne Brown, she is also editing W. E .B. Du Bois’s short genre fiction. Their edition of Du Bois’s fantasy story ―The Princess Steel‖ was published in PMLA.
The Modern Language Association of America and its 24,000 members in 100 countries work to strengthen the study and teaching of languages and literature. Founded in 1883, the MLA provides opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy. The MLA sustains one of the finest publication programs in the humanities, producing a variety of publications for language and literature professionals and for the general public. The association publishes the MLA International Bibliography, the only comprehensive bibliography in language and literature, available online. The MLA Annual Convention features meetings on a wide variety of subjects; the 2019 convention in Chicago is expected to draw 7,000 attendees.
Modern Language Association of America.
Before the establishment of the MLA Prize for a First Book in 1993, members who were authors of first books were eligible, along with other members, to compete for the association’s James Russell Lowell Prize, established in 1969. Apart from its limitation to members’ first books, the MLA Prize for a First Book follows the same criteria and definitions as the Lowell Prize. Recent winners of the prize include Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Andrew Piper, Vivasvan Soni, Nergis Ertürk, Meredith Martin, Raúl Coronado, Sadia Abbas, Lital Levy, Supritha Rajan, Michael Allan, and Christy Wampole. Recent honorable mentions have been presented to Eric Slauter and Eugenie Brinkema.