Six Yale scholars honored by the Modern Language Association

The Modern Language Association awarded prizes for outstanding publications to six Yale faculty members for their recent literary contributions.
Katerina Clark, Erica Edwards, Jill Jarvis, Jessica Gabriel Peritz, Juno Jill Richards, and Shane Vogel

Top row: Katerina Clark, Erica Edwards, and Jill Jarvis; Bottom row: Jessica Gabriel Peritz, Juno Jill Richards, and Shane Vogel

Six members of the Yale faculty — Katerina Clark, Jill Jarvis, Jessica Gabriel Peritz, Shane Vogel, Erica Edwards, and Juno Jill Richards — have been honored by the Modern Language Association (MLA) for outstanding scholarly work in the field.

The six received their awards Jan. 6 at the MLA’s annual convention in San Francisco. Their prizes are among 19 awards presented to MLA members chosen by selection committees, which are made up of scholars from around the United States.

This is a triumph for literary studies at Yale,” said Kathryn Lofton, interim dean of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and FAS dean of humanities, about the MLA awards. “I am thrilled that the MLA is recognizing and celebrating our colleagues and their powerful work.”

A ‘magisterial’ political history of world literature

Katerina Cark, a professor of comparative literature and of Slavic languages and literatures in the FAS, won the Matei Calinescu Prize for a distinguished work of scholarship in 20th- or 21st-century literature and thought for her book “Eurasia without Borders: The Dream of a Leftist Literary Commons, 1919-1943” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press). The prize was established in 2016 in honor of Matei Calinescu, a Romanian poet and scholar who taught at Indiana University in Bloomington.

‘Eurasia without Borders: The Dream of a Leftist Literary Commons, 1919-1943’ is a brilliantly researched political history of world literature that reveals how writers reimagined Eurasia in response to Soviet internationalism,” the award citation reads. “Katerina Clark argues that Soviet, European, and Asian writers on the Left attempted to create a single cultural space in service of an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-fascist aesthetic. The resulting ‘socialist literary internationalism’ was anything but monolithic, and Clark’s study deftly traces the conflicting pulls of the national and the international, heeding at once Marxist ideological platforms and discrete vernacular or national literary traditions. The book’s rich treatment of internationalism and the role of translation in the formation of a leftist literary commons is deeply resonant within literary studies and contemporary geopolitics alike. Magisterial in scope, lucidly written, and regionally timely, ‘Eurasia without Borders’ is literary-political history at its best.”

Clark’s research and teaching focus on Russian, European, and Eurasian film, literature, performing arts, art, architecture, and literary theory, as well as cultural interactions, world literature, and art and ideology.

A blistering indictment of state power’

Jill Jarvis, assistant professor of French in the FAS, is the recipient of the 13th annual Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for her book “Decolonizing Memory: Algeria and the Politics of Testimony” (Duke University Press). The award recognizes outstanding scholarly work (a literary or linguistic study, critical edition of an important work or a critical biography) written by an MLA member. The award was donated by Aldo Scaglione to the MLA in 1987 in memory of his wife, Jeanne Scaglione, the headmistress of a Jewish kindergarten in Brussels who worked with Belgian and Jewish resistance units to find hiding places for Jewish children throughout Belgium and helped others escape when arrests and deportations of Jews began in 1942.

The centrality of Algeria to French and francophone literature, and indeed the importance of literature in understanding colonial and postcolonial trauma, becomes clear in this ambitious book,” the award citation reads. “Considering works of fiction alongside testimonial, juridical, and theoretical texts produced multiple languages, ‘Decolonizing Memory: Algeria and the Politics of Testimony’ explores the ‘anarchival’ forms of expression by which literature responds to official silences and suppressions of history. Jill Jarvis’ study is a blistering indictment of state power, French and Algerian, that sought to crush and make invisible experiences from the colonial period, the war of national independence, and the uncivil war of the 1990s. Elegantly written and enriched by deep research, the book renders accessible the ghostly voices of the past to help us imagine a possible — but uncertain — decolonized future.”

Jarvis, a specialist in the aesthetics and politics of North Africa, is working on a second book project, “Signs in the Desert: An Aesthetic Cartography of the Sahara.”

A model of interdisciplinary scholarship’

Jessica Gabriel Peritz, an assistant professor of music in the FAS, won the 25th annual Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Publication Award for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies for her book “The Lyric Myth of Voice: Civilizing Song in Enlightenment Italy” (University of California Press).

Jessica Gabriel Peritz’s ‘The Myth of Voice: Civilizing Song in Enlightenment Italy’ is a compelling and beautifully written account of the way that both literary and musical versions of voice came to be associated with subjectivity and assumed a national and gendered identity in 18th-century Italy,” the citation reads. “A model of interdisciplinary scholarship, the book draws on a rich trove of materials that includes lyric poetry, opera scores and libretti, performance history, and philosophical reflections. Resisting the temptation to produce a single narrative that might account for Italy’s fragmented cultural politics, Peritz perceptively tracks multiple voices, including those of women and castrati, showing how song civilizes those who hear it and how voice becomes an agent of sensibility and individuality.”

Peritz, who teaches in the Department of Music, is a scholar of Western music of the 17th through early 19th centuries, especially opera and vocal music. She is now at work on two book-length projects: one a critical reading of how empire, sentimentality, and racialized difference were represented together in 18th-century opera seria, and the other a study of castrato-obsessed Violet Paget.

Restoring the Africana absurd to its rightful place’

Shane Vogel, professor of English and African American Studies in the FAS, won the William Riley Parker Prize for an outstanding article published in the PMLA, the association’s journal of literary scholarship. His article “‘Waiting for Godot’ and the Racial Theater of the Absurd” appeared in the January 2022 issue of PMLA. The award is the MLA’s oldest prize, which was first presented in 1964. In 1968 it was named in memory of a distinguished former editor of the journal and executive secretary of the MLA.

Shane Vogel’s remarkable essay, ‘“Waiting for Godot” and the Racial Theater of the Absurd,’ takes its point of departure in a brief though consequential cultural event in the world of New York theater: the 1958 Broadway adaptation of ‘Waiting for Godot’ with an all-Black cast,” the award citation reads. “Vogel takes up the adaptation of a canonical texts in 20th-century theater and teases out of this production a searching interdisciplinary reading that helps us grapple with — and theorize — the aesthetic forms of modernity as forms haunted by a history of violence, dispossession, and struggle, while persuasively restoring the Africana absurd to its rightful place in the philosophical-aesthetic trajectory of modernism. Incisive instances of close reading combine with thoughtful, nuanced considerations of reception theory and transnational cultural historiography in this standout essay.”

Vogel’s research and teaching interests include performance studies, theater history, African American literature and performance, Black existentialisms, and the Harlem Renaissance. He is co-editor of the 2020 book “Race and Performance After Repetition,” which won the Errol Hill Award from the American Society of Theater Research and is author of the 2018 book “Stolen Time: Black Fad Performance and the Calypso Craze,” which won the John W. Frick Award from the American Theater and Drama Society.

A ‘chilling study of surveillance culture’

Erica R. Edwards, professor of English and African American studies in the FAS, is one of two scholars to receive honorable mention for the James Russell Lowell Prize, which 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 an MLA member. She won for her book “The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of U.S. Empire” (New York University Press).

Erica Edwards’ ‘The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of U.S. Empire’ revisits predilections for endless war through cultural productions that manifest and challenge imperialist practice,” the citation reads. “Of particular focus is the relationship between Black feminist artistic production and the war on terror instantiated after 9/11. Edwards’ cogent analysis illuminates the survival skills embedded in classic civil rights novels like Toni Cade Bambara’s ‘The Salt Eaters’ while illustrating how seemingly progressive images of Black success mask and reinscribe imperial grammars. Within these pages, Olivia Pope — the protagonist of Shonda Rhimes’ television sensation ‘Scandal’ — is read alongside the narrative statecraft of former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to produce a truly revelatory and chilling study of surveillance culture.”

A scholar of African American literature and feminist theory whose work also explores politics, social movements, and popular culture, Edwards previously won the MLA’s William Sanders Scarborough Prize for her 2012 book “Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership.” “The Other Side of Terror” was a finalist for both the Association of Publishers Prose Award and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History Book Prize.

Collective criticism,’ a collaboration among friends

Juno Jill Richards, associate professor of English, and their three collaborators received an honorable mention for the Prize for Collaborative, Bibliographical, or Archival Scholarship for their book “The Ferrante Letters: An Experiment in Collective Criticism” (Columbia University Press). The book’s coauthors are Sarah Chihaya of Princeton University, Merve Emre of the University of Oxford, and Katherine Hill of Adelphi University.

‘The Ferrante Letters: An Experiment in Collective Criticism’ presents the outcome of a unique, creative, and collaborative project,” reads the award citation. “The four authors — Sarah Chihaya, Merve Emre, Katherine Hill, and Juno Jill Richards — read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels over a single summer, one per month, and then wrote letters to one another about their reading. The letters are critical literary readings but are not as formal as other such critical works. Through the process, the authors developed their often-insightful views on the Ferrante novels and also, through the collaborative format, theorized ‘collective criticism’ as a mode of working that differs in temporality, technologies, and attitude from typical scholarly criticism. They frame this mode of working through the lens of friendship rather than through the competition that so often characterizes academic work.”

Richards’ research focuses on transnational modernist and postcolonial literature, with an emphasis on queer and trans archives, feminist history, critical legal theory, human rights law, citizenship, social reproduction, queer feminist science, biometrics, and feminist disability studies. Their current research takes up a migrant history of sexuality through attention to the intimate social life of a colonial port city.

The MLA and its more than 20,000 members from 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 produces a variety of publications for language and literature professionals and for the general public.

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