Schuchard Wins MLA Prize

Professor Ron Schuchard has won the MLA Prize for a Scholarly Edition for his work on The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot. Below is an interview between Professor Schuchard and the English Department Chair, Professor Benjamin Reiss:

Last week I sat down with  Emeritus Professor Ron Schuchard in my office to hear the story behind his publication of the eight-volume Collected Prose of T.S. Eliot, which is available as a fully searchable, integrated online set via Project Muse:  The collection won this year’s MLA Prize for a Distinguished Scholarly Edition,  the first time the prize has been awarded for a digital project.   This is the second major MLA prize for Schuchard, whose edition of the fourth volume of Yeats’ letters won the prize for a Distinguished Edition of Letters in 2007.

The story of Ron’s publication of Eliot’s collected prose is in large part the story of his decades-long relationship with Valerie Eliot, the poet’s second wife (and later widow).  It is a wonderful tale of scholarly commitment, determination, patience, and the importance of personal relationships in documenting the fullness of literary history.  Bourbon, claret, and martinis also play their roles.

The relationship was at first entirely one-sided, beginning with letters Ron wrote to Mrs. Eliot in 1970 concerning research he was doing on his dissertation: “T. S. Eliot’s Early Religious and Curious Classicism.” He never received responses. Flash forward to 1973, when Ron – by then an assistant professor at Emory – was teaching in Emory’s study abroad program in London.  He invited the English literary critic Dame Helen Gardner to give a lecture in his class, and she asked him how his work on Eliot was going.  A portion of the dissertation had just been published in PMLA, so the young professor had firm ground to stand on. He explained that he had been trying to contact Mrs. Eliot about the poet’s uncollected papers, and Dame Helen agreed to write a letter of introduction.

Shortly thereafter, Ron was invited to the home of Mrs. Eliot, who was TS Eliot’s literary executor and his most important posthumous editor.  (In 1971, she had brought out a facsimile edition of manuscripts of The Waste Land.)  She quizzed the young scholar about his knowledge and understanding of Eliot’s work – “a second doctoral defense,” as he described it, although this one was fueled by bourbon.

At the end of the grilling, Mrs. Eliot looked Ron in the eye and asked, “What do you want?”  Fortunately, he had an answer at the ready: Eliot’s Clark lectures on metaphysical poetry, given at Trinity College, Cambridge University, in 1926.  She agreed to let him see the lectures, which had never been heard or seen since, but informed him that he could not quote them because her husband Tom didn’t feel they were suitable for publication.  It took over a decade (and presumably a bit more bourbon) for Ron to convince her to work on editing them together.  They worked side by side, deciphering handwriting, making annotations, and incorporating revisions that the poet had made for a lecture series at Johns Hopkins in 1933.  The volume, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, was published by Faber & Faber (Eliot’s main publisher) in 1993.

After Varieties was published, Mrs. Eliot invited Ron and another prominent scholar of twentieth-century poetry who had been working on Eliot-related editorial projects, Christopher Ricks, to dinner in a London restaurant.  “She thanked us both for our work,” Ron recalls, “and dismissed us from further service.”  Tom, she reminded them, had said on his deathbed that he didn’t want any further editions of posthumous work appearing unless she was directly involved in the editorial process, and so – she informed her guests – she would be handling matters from that point onward.  Her plans mostly involved editions of her late husband’s letters. 

Left unpublished was an extraordinary trove of materials, much of it stored in the Faber & Faber archive, an underground vault next to the Goodge Street tube station.  And more.  There were addresses to charities, speeches at awards ceremonies, letters to the editor, transcripts of radio interviews, and unsigned pieces in magazines and journals.  As Ron found evidence of this work out in the world, he sent it bit by bit to Mrs. Eliot.  In the meantime, his own second monograph, Eliot’s Dark Angel, came out in 1999, winning the Robert Penn Warren/Cleanth Brooks Prize in Literary Criticism.  He was no longer an audacious young scholar seeking access, but now a major figure in the study of poetry.  And he was bringing to Mrs. Eliot as much news about her husband’s career as she could offer to him.

By 2004, when Ron was in London leading another Emory summer session, he went to see her again.  She showed him a letter from the poet Ted Hughes about the importance to the literary world of bringing out TS Eliot’s letters.  Seeing Ron, she realized what she needed to do.  But it took her two years to sign over the agreement for the totality of Eliot’s unpublished prose: all of it.  “She was tired of being called the dragon lady,” who kept her husband’s work private, Ron told me.  Her commitment to working with Ron allowed him to secure a Guggenheim fellowship in 2006-7.  Working in Valerie Eliot’s flat and the Faber & Faber archive, they carefully combed through everything. Often, they would take a break in the middle of the day to visit Café Royal, a famous modernist watering hole, where over martinis and claret he heard stories of Tom’s life that vividly brought the materials they were discovering together to life.  “She came to trust me implicitly” with decisions about curation, editing, and annotation.  And the rest is… well, The Collected Prose of TS Eliot.

I asked Ron to tell me about the most surprising document he had found in his research.  He answered unhesitatingly that it was a previously unpublished essay Eliot had written to serve as a preface for a memoir of life in Auschwitz that had been smuggled into London and translated into English.  The manuscript was called “Roll Call,” for the accounting done by guards when they thought someone had escaped.  Eliot had wanted to publish the preface, written in December 1944, but the Polish publisher in London did not receive a requested wartime paper allotment. Additionally, at a time when news of the camps had barely surfaced, the War Ministry suppressed it on grounds that it would be too sensational to bring out.  The memoir was eventually published in 1960, but without Eliot’s preface – which has now found a home in Volume 6 of the Collected Prose.

Eliot, of course, has frequently met charges of anti-Semitism, a complex and serious charge that has affected his legacy.  The preface for the Auschwitz memoir largely concerns the persecution of Poles, rather than Jews; Eliot, like so many others in the UK and the US, was largely ignorant of the great suffering of Jews and other minority groups under Nazi rule.  Yet Ron sees in this document and in much of the archive he has painstakingly reconstructed an opportunity to revisit this question.  He is working on a book about Eliot and anti-Semitism, “not to refute but to contextualize.”

This new book project indicates one of only thousands of possibilities for fresh interpretations of Eliot’s work generated by the publication of the Collected Prose.  Since Eliot’s death in 1965, scholars have had only ten percent of his prose to work with.  Now, thanks to nearly five decades of work from Ron Schuchard, they have the other ninety.

English Department Welcomes Nine New Faculty Members!

Emory’s English department is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation change, with an extraordinary influx of new scholars, writers, and teachers across all units of the department. With these hires, we are proud to be adding extraordinary writers to our already top-ranked Creative Writing program; adding to our already impressive roster of faculty in African American literary study; developing new pathways in digital humanities and quantitative approaches to literary study; and deepening our offerings in rhetoric to emphasize issues of environmentalism, feminism, and community-engaged writing.  

In January, the Creative Writing program brought the world-acclaimed novelist Tayari Jones (a proud Atlanta native) to campus, fresh off the success of her critically hailed (and best-selling) novel An American Marriage. Praised by President Barack Obama as “a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African American couple,” the novel cements Prof. Jones’ reputation as one of the leading voices of contemporary American fiction. Her novels both reflect and create a distinctive world of African Americans experiencing struggle, love, triumph and heartbreak in the urban South. Prof. Jones taught previously at Rutgers University in Newark, NJ. Her recent speaking engagements have taken her all over the world and to the most prominent media outlets, from the New York Times to the Oprah Winfrey show.

This fall, we welcome poets Robyn Schiff and Heather Christle, and novelist, poet and short-story writerTiphanie Yanique.

Robyn Schiff’s most recent collection, A Woman of Property, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and the Chicago Tribune, and was an Editor’s Choice at the New York Times. Critic Dan Chiasson of The New Yorker compared the book’s attentive, unsettling poems “of almost forensic specificity” to Hitchcock’s atmospherics: “Schiff’s poems, with their Hitchcock-like distrust of appearances, their alertness to hidden binds and snares, offer something few poets ever discover: a vision of the whole world.” Schiff is a co-editor of the independent poetry press Canarium Books, and she previously taught at the University of Iowa.

Heather Christle is the author of four poetry collections, including The Trees The Trees, which won the Believer poetry prize, and–most recently–Heliopause. Her first work of nonfiction, The Crying Book, will be published in the US and internationally this fall. Christle’s poems have appeared in The New YorkerBoston ReviewGulf CoastPoetry, and many other journals, and she is a contributing editor of jubilat magazine.She previously taught at Emory as a post-doctoral fellow in poetry, and we are excited to have her back as a faculty member.

Tiphanie Yanique is the most acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, and poet to come out of the Virgin Islands. She is the author of the novel Land of Love and Drowning, which won the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award from the Center for Fiction, the Phyllis Wheatley Award for Pan-African Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, and was listed by NPR as one of the Best Book of 2014. Prof. Yanique is also the author of a collection of stories, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, which won her a listing as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5Under35, and a collection of poems called Wife, winner of the 2016 Bocas Prize in Caribbean poetry and the United Kingdom’s 2016 Forward/Felix Dennis Prize for a First Collection. Additional awards include a Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship and an Academy of American Poet’s Prize. She has been listed by the Boston Globe as one of the sixteen cultural figures to watch out for and her writing has been published in the New York TimesBest African American Fiction, The Wall Street JournalAmerican Short Fiction and many other journals.

In literary and cultural studies, we have added important new scholarly perspectives in African American literature, early American literature, contemporary literature, and digital humanities. In these new hires, we have collaborated with African American Studies, the Rose Library, and the Center for Quantitative Theories and Methods to forge exciting new pathways in the study of literature. 

Meina Yates-Richard joins renowned senior scholars Michelle Wright and Valerie Babb in making Emory  one of the foremost centers for the study of African American literature in the country. Prof. Yates-Richard brings a special talent for inventive archival research, which informs her research of African American, Caribbean, and Black Atlantic literature and culture from the nineteenth century to the present. Her first book project is a study of the sounds – music, shouts, cries of pain, echoes – of enslavement, liberation, and traumatic experience in the history of race in the Americas. A new project, undertaken with research at the Rose Library, focuses on archival traces of the sounds of African diasporic liberation movements. Prof. Yates-Richard previously taught at Syracuse University, and she was recently awarded the prize for best essay in the flagship journal American Literature.

Lauren Klein and Dan Sinykin join last year’s hire, Ben Miller, to form a powerful trio of scholars working in digital humanities. They were both hired through a unique partnership with the Institute for Quantitative Theories and Methods, which is training the next generation of leaders in the field of data analysis across the disciplines. The emerging field of digital humanities provides a framework for thinking about what the computing revolution can add to the study of culture, and Profs. Klein and Sinykin are at the forefront. Yet Klein and Sinykin are both, in a way, traditional literary scholars, finding new ways to approach old questions about the development of genres, the relationship between writing and its historical contexts, and the social factors shaping what gets published and read in different periods.

Lauren  Klein’s primary literary specialty is early American literature; she is also a pioneer in digital humanities research, with a special focus on how data and computational methods of interpretation shape perceptions of race and gender. She has two forthcoming books that showcase these dimensions: Matters of Taste: Eating, Aesthetics, and the Early American Archive (University of Minnesota Press) and, co-authored with Catherine D’Ignazio, Data Feminism (MIT Press), both of which will be published in 2020. She is also editor of the seminal annual publication Debates in Digital Humanities. Prof. Klein will be teaching courses in early and nineteenth-century American literature and digital humanities; she also holds a faculty the Institute for Quantitative Theories and Methods. She previously taught at Georgia Tech, where she was director of the Digital Humanities lab, after receiving her doctorate from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Dan Sinykin’s research is on 20th– and 21st-century American fiction, and he has two books forthcoming. His first, The Liberal Apocalypse: American Literature and the Long Downturn, 1965-2016 (Oxford University Press) explores the rise of apocalyptic writing in the context of economic changes over the past half century. His second, The Conglomerate Era: A Computational History of Literature in the Age of the Agent (Columbia University Press) uses computational techniques to analyze how the contraction of the commercial publishing industry (the rise of the so-called Big Five publishers) has affected what kinds of work get published and promoted. Prof. Sinykin is the editor of the Contemporaries blog run by the journal Post-45, and he writes frequently for such publications as the Washington PostSalonDissent, and Public Books. He will be teaching courses on modern and contemporary American fiction, digital humanities, and critical methods. He is a recent graduate of Cornell University’s PhD program, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Notre Dame University.

In the Writing program, we welcome Melissa Yang and Kathleen Leuschen, who add depth to our offerings in rhetoric, archival research, digital media, and community-engaged learning. Melissa Yang joins the Writing Program from the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her PhD in English with a specialization in Composition and Rhetoric. Dr. Yang’s research explores the rhetorical omnipresence of birds in figurative language by homing in on avian etymologies and material histories. Her environmental humanities projects have been featured in a range of conferences, public forums, and multidisciplinary journals. Dr. Yang is passionate about archives, writing centers, digital media pedagogy, and practicing multimodal collaboration in areas from poetics to partner acrobatics. During her first year in the department, Dr. Yang will teach first-year writing and a new upper-level continuing writing course of her own design. She will also work as a special-projects tutor in the Emory Writing Center.Most recently a postdoctoral fellow in Emory’s Writing Program, Kathleen Leuschen received her M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies at Roosevelt University and her Ph.D. in English with a specialization in Rhetoric and Composition at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her research and teaching interests include rhetorical theory, genre theory, literacy studies, public and activist writing, archival methods, feminist historiography, community-engaged learning, and public memory. Dr. Leuschen’s scholarship on visual rhetoric, feminist historiography, and public memory is forthcoming in Rhetoric Review and in two edited collections. She currently coordinates the Writing Program’s community-engaged learning efforts and as a postdoctoral fellow was awarded a community-engaged learning grant from Emory’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE) and a Rose Library Teaching Fellowship. During the upcoming academic year Dr. Leuschen will teach first-year writing and a newly designed upper-level continuing writing course. She will also assist in teaching the graduate-level composition pedagogy course, which she will subsequently lead in fall 2020.