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Twain Project, English novel in India win MLA prizes

– A book about colonialism, culture and the global development of the novel in English, and a collection of Mark Twain's correspondence are generating attention for University of California, Berkeley, following the announcement of prizes from the Modern Language Association of America (MLA).

The MLA has awarded its 10th annual Prize for a First Book to Priya Joshi, an associate professor of English in UC Berkeley's College of Letters & Science, for "In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India."

Also receiving kudos are Michael B. Frank and Harriet Elinor Smith, principal editors with UC Berkeley's Mark Twain Project at The Bancroft Library. They are this year's winners of the Morton N. Cohen Award for a Distinguished Edition of Letters for their editing of "Mark Twain's Letters: Volume 6: 1874-1875."

The awards of the MLA, which serves to advance literary and linguistic studies, will be presented Dec. 28 in San Diego. Joshi, Frank and Smith each will receive $500 and a certificate.

Priya Joshi

The MLA award committee noted that Joshi's "innovative and ambitious book challenges simplistic hegemonic perspectives on colonialism and culture ...(as it) mines library records, publishers archives, and works by Indian writers to glean new understandings of how English books were read in India in the 19th century and of the process by which consumers of those books became producers of Indian literature in English.

"As Joshi's ingenious reconstruction of the consumption practices of 19th century India's resistant readers predicts, the tradition of the Indian novel that emerged in the 20th century transmuted its colonial legacy in unpredictable ways that ultimately reversed the priorities of Englishness and empire."

The book was published by Columbia University Press.

In addition to the MLA Prize for a First Book, "In Another Country" was also recently awarded the Sonya Rudikoff Prize for best first book in Victorian studies by the Northeast Victorian Studies Association, a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title award, and honorable mention for the SHARP Book History Prize.

Joshi received a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1995 and joined UC Berkeley that year. She is the second member of the university's English Department to win this top MLA prize, which was awarded in 1995 to Associate Professor Steven Justice for "Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381" (University of California Press).

The Prize for a First Book is awarded annually for the first book-length publication of a MLA member reflecting a literary or linguistic study, critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography.

Michael Frank and Harriet Smith

The MLA committee's citation of the collection published by the University of California Press noted the volume presents 350 letters from a happy and productive period in the life of author Samuel Clemens, commonly known as Mark Twain.

"The authors have produced an exemplary collection of the correspondence of a major American author, a book that can be read as a work of literature in its own right," said the citation.

The awards committee also said the book's "Guide to Editorial Practice" prepared by Twain Project General Editor Robert Hirst, "should be required reading for all editors of letters by modern writers."

Smith also co-edited "Roughing It (The Works of Mark Twain, Volume 2), which earned the MLA Prize for a Distinguished Scholarly Edition in 1995.

Frank, who earned his master's degree in English at UC Berkeley, has been affiliated with the Mark Twain Project since 1967.

Previous winners of the Cohen Award include "The Correspondence of Charles Darwin," "The Correspondence of William James," and "The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams: Volume 1, 1920-1945."