By Professor Mark Turner, PGR Lead
It is a pleasure to announce to the KCL English community that the Scottish Association for the Study of America (SASA) has awarded the 2021 Ellen Craft Essay Prize to one of our PhD students, Katie Arthur, for her brilliant essay, ‘Arousing Disgust: Visceral Configurations of Obscenity through Literal, Literary, and Governmental Bodies in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959)’.
Katie’s essay begins in the mid-twentieth-century American courtroom, where judges and lawyers tried and failed to come up with a workable definition of ‘obscenity.’ The essay goes on to show how those practicing the law came to categorise any book that provoked a visceral response as obscene.
William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959), one of the most notorious texts in American literary history, was defended by its publisher on the grounds that it caused disgust in readers intentionally, as a moral strategy on Burroughs’ part. As Katie writes in her essay: “While the evocation of disgust helped free the book from the courtroom, it also restricts the interpretation of the potential meanings that the text holds”. In particular, it limits the novel’s (homo)erotic and queer potentialities.
The judges’ praise was fulsome, describing the essay as a standout submission, written with assurance and creativity, and original in its argument.
The Ellen Craft Essay Prize is awarded to the best essay by a graduate student or early-career researcher on a topic relating to women, gender, or minority studies within the Americas. The namesake of this prize, Ellen Craft, fled slavery in 1848. Dressed as a white, male slaveholder, Ellen, along with her husband dressed as her slave, traversed 1000 miles across slave states to freedom. Following their escape, the couple travelled to the UK where they gave a series of lectures on their lives as slaves and their journey. The creators of this award found Ellen Craft a fitting namesake. Her often forgotten story is emblematic of the type of scholarship this award hopes to promote.
The Ellen Craft Essay Prize is intended, in a small way, to respond to some of the current issues facing American Studies scholarship within the UK. What subjects are being studied and who is doing the studying? The Ellen Craft Essay Prize aims to help to promote, encourage and share the study of women, gender and minority topics in American Studies at postgraduate and early career levels and it is wonderful to see how research from our community is being recognised in relation to this mission.
Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.
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