UICB director runner-up for MLA First Book Prize

By 
Andrea Parrott

University of Iowa Center for the Book Director Matthew P. Brown received an honorable mention for the Modern Language Association of America’s First Book Prize. The associate professor of English was honored for “The Pilgrim and the Bee: Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England.”

The first book prize recognizes a first book-length publication of a literary or linguistic study, critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography. Only those in the MLA are allowed to vie for the prize, though competition is in no short supply, as there are 30,000 registered members from around the world.

The judges said Brown’s book, which analyzes several aspects of the colonial American literary world, contributes greatly to the fields of religious and early American studies, while calling for new directions in the study of book history and “advocat[ing] for book studies scholarship as an especially valuable method for pursuing a social history of culture.”

Brown centers his research on the history of readership. He will be on research assignment in the spring to work on his next book at the Library Company of Philadelphia with assistance from a NEH grant. The book, currently titled “The Novel and the Blank,” will be an “investigation of how constraints of the print shop affected the literary culture and reading habits of colonial and early national America,” Brown said.

He is also in the process of helping organize the College Book Art Association conference “Art, Fact, and Artifact” to be held at the Center for the Book Jan. 8-10.

Brown sees “The Pilgrim and the Bee” as a direct outgrowth of his work at the Center for the Book, which is integral to the broader Writing University initiative at the UI. “First-rate faculty and graduate students in the program and from Art, English, Library Sciences, American Studies and History make for an extraordinary learning environment,” Brown said. “As do my colleagues in English, the Center nurtures scholarly research, creative thinking, and literary expression.”

Brown’s honor adds to a growing list of recent literary achievements at the UI. In November the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Iowa City a City of Literature, an honor held by only two other cities worldwide. Center for the Book faculty crafted the application for the UNESCO designation, designing handmade paper, calligraphy and binding for its presentation. Two poets affiliated with the Writer’s Workshop shared the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, and Orhan Pamuk, an alumnus of the International Writing program, won a Nobel Prize.

The MLA Prize for First Book will be awarded to Dana Luciano, of Georgetown University, for her book “Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America.” In addition to Brown, a second honorable mention will be given to Martin K. Foys, of Hood College, for his book “Virtually Anglo-Saxon: Old Media, New Media, and Early Medieval Studies in the Late Age of Print.” The honorable mention category has been granted only four times in the history of the award prior to this year.

The recipients will receive the prize this December at the MLA’s annual meeting in San Francisco in front of approximately 9,500 attendees. Luciano, Brown and Foys will be presented with certificates at the ceremony; Luciano will also receive a prize of $1,000.

Contact: Matthew P. Brown, Center for the Book
matthew-p-brown@uiowa.edu 319-335-0454

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