The 2022 ASN Book Prize
The ASN Book Prize 2022 has been awarded to Sharon Monteith, SNCC’s Stories: The African American Freedom Movement in the Civil Rights South (University of Georgia Press, 2020)
The premise of SNCC’s Stories is to look at a whole host of contemporary primary sources related to SNCC—field reports, journalism, cartoons, short stories and novels, poems and poetry collections, plays, and personal, lyrical, and essays—which constitute what the author refers to as its “narrative culture and literary history.” Monteith convinces the reader that hers is a neglected aspect of the organization’s history and one which provides entirely new insiders’ viewpoints to the topic. Not only does she dig up a range of neglected writings produced by the movement, she shows that “literary activism” was a consciously designed strategy by SNCC, one which has previously been understudied. The novelty of her approach is that she does not valorize so-called “objective” historical accounts but sees value in exploring SNCC’s history “subjectively in ways they could not be explored in other kinds of writing.”
The book is an example of an American Studies approach par excellence, looking at intersections of politics and culture through social movements and activism, elucidating the everyday and the literary, the scholarly and the vernacular. The various types of texts provide a nuanced discussion of the intersection of politics and culture, ranging from first-person accounts of everyday experiences, through cartoon characters of comics to literary depictions that offered a “safer space than journalism, a place where writers could do justice to local people, dramatize the courage that made their lives more than ordinary.” Although not explicitly labeled as such, the starting point is transdisciplinary; it is about “studies,” rather than disciplines.
The ASN also wishes to recognise with an honourable mention Anna Pochmara, The Nadir and the Zenith: Temperance and Excess in the Early African American Novel (University of Georgia Press, 2021)
ASN: The Nadir and the Zenith contains a highly original and very timely theoretical design, thought-provoking arguments regarding the chosen texts, and impressive engagement with the complexities of the subject. The panel agreed that the closing of the historic gap, the conversation with Temperance writing, and the way the text carves out the nuances and subtleties (of resistance and affirmation) in these texts by African American authors deserves our praise.