Tuesday, April 4, 2017
April 4, 2017: NeMLA Recaps: The Book Award
[A couple weeks back, we held the 48th annual Northeast MLA Convention in Baltimore. Thanks to the work of President Hilda Chacón, Executive Director Carine Mardorossian, and many many more, the convention went off beautifully. This week I’ll follow up on five particular events and conversations—add your thoughts, whether you were there or not, in comments, please!]
On AmericanStudies takeaways from our two Book Award co-winners.
As NeMLA Past President for the last year, my only official duty—alongside my unofficial duties of shaking hands and kissing babies, natch—was to oversee the selection process for our annual Book Award, presented each year at the Membership Brunch that concludes the Convention. I’ve had the chance to be part of the Book Award review process in a couple prior years, and while we’ve always had a number of impressive submissions, this year was particularly noteworthy, both for the overall quantity (the largest number of submissions in the award’s history, I believe) and for the quality of those submissions. NeMLA members are producing vital scholarship, engaged in equal measure with very specific subjects (authors, texts, literary movements, historical moments) that deserve more attention and some of the most overarching questions and issues confronting our society and world. Exemplifying the balance of those levels of scholarly inquiry were our two 2017 co-winners: Katie Daily-Bruckner’s Who Am I With?: Rejection and Disaffiliation in Twenty-First Century Immigration Narratives and Regina Galasso’s Translating New York: The City's Languages in Iberian Literatures.
I can’t do justice here to either of these multi-layered and nuanced books (if you want to know more, read the books when they’re published, to paraphrase Reading Rainbow), but I did want to note a couple of salient takeaways from each for AmericanStudying our current moment. As someone who has read and thought a great deal about stories of immigration, I was particularly struck with how Daily-Bruckner’s project manages to find new ways to frame and analyze such immigration narratives, coupling extended close readings of individual works and voices to an important overarching argument on the complex and crucial identity questions that such stories include and help us engage. Many of Daily-Bruckner’s focal authors have so much to tell us about both America and the world in the 21st century; I would highlight in particular her readings of Edwidge Danticat (about whom I’ve also written but still learned a great deal from her book) and Mohsin Hamid (about whom I knew far too little). But in a moment when immigrants are being so consistently and thoroughly defined and debated and acted upon from the outside, by governmental and activist forces across the political spectrum, perhaps Daily-Bruckner’s most important work is simply to remind us of the vital need to read and listen to and understand and learn from these authors and voices themselves. In the process we’ll engage not only with their identities and communities and experiences, but with all of ours.
Galasso’s project considers two distinct but complementary forms of cross-cultural and global movement: the transatlantic travels of a group of 20th and 21st century Iberian writers; and the literary and philosophical movement involved in translating both such experiences overall and the languages of New York City in particular across at least three focal tongues (Spanish, England, and Catalan). I’m far from an expert on Iberian literature and culture, of course, and deferred to our excellent reviewers for their assessments of the strengths and significance of Galasso’s manuscript. But I have thought and written a great deal about cross-cultural movement and transformation, about multi-lingual identities and communities and the acts of translation that they necessitate, and about what we all can learn from such experiences and questions. On that last note, I might be wrong—and as always feel free to correct me in comments!—but it seems to me that Iberian nations, like most countries in the world, have a more overt and shared sense of multi-lingualism and translation as fundamental components of identity and community than does the United States (or at least far too many of our citizens). For all too many Americans, multi-lingualism is boiled down to complaints about “pressing 1 for English” or, far more troublingly, attacks on those fellow Americans overheard speaking languages other than English. Despite its Iberian focus, then, Galasso’s book has a great deal to teach us all about language, translation, and the cross-cultural construction of all 21st century identities.
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other NeMLA memories to share?