English Professor Wins Prestigious Prize

Erica Edwards recognized by Modern Language Association of America for scholarship in African-American literature, culture

Erica Edwards

Erica Edwards has won the prestigious William Sanders Scarborough Prize.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Erica Edwards, associate professor of English at the University of California, Riverside, has won the prestigious William Sanders Scarborough Prize from the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) for an outstanding study of African-American literature or culture.

Edwards was recognized for her book, “Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership” (University of Minnesota Press, 2012). The award will be presented during the association’s annual convention in Chicago in January.

The William Sanders Scarborough Prize is the top award in African-American studies and one of the most distinguished in literary and cultural study, said Deborah Willis, chair of the UCR Department of English. It is also one of a handful of highly prestigious awards the MLA gives every year.

“It’s like winning the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award in our field,” she said. “This award is so well-deserved. Erica’s book is a wonderfully rich, theoretically astute yet fascinating and accessible study of what she calls the ‘charismatic scenario’ of black leadership as it has been constructed in literature, popular culture, and political discourse in our country. Her study reaches back into the past — to, for example, the novels of Zora Neal Hurston and W.E.B. Dubois  — but also engages with the most contemporary of debates circulating around the Obama presidency. As one reviewer has said, her book should be required reading for every U.S. citizen.”

In awarding the 12th annual Scarborough Prize the selection committee described Edwards’s book as a deft critique of “the long-standing notion that a single charismatic male is requisite for leadership in African American politics.” The award was established in 2001 and named for the association’s first African-American member.

“Charisma, according to Edwards, is a historiographical fiction that not only neglects the complexity of African American freedom struggles but also replicates antidemocratic and masculine forms of authority in which strategies of racial representation and liberation perpetuate gendered hierarchies of political value and knowledge,” the committee said. “Lucidity, eloquence, and theoretical sophistication all distinguish Edwards’s wide-ranging study of how twentieth-century African American literature has contested the modern political role of charisma. In Edwards’s book we now have a valuable counter-genealogy that explains the literary and historical implications of African American political leadership, past and present.”

Edwards received her Ph.D. from Duke University and her B.A. from Spelman College. Her work on African-American literature, politics, and gender critique has appeared in journals such as Callaloo, American Quarterly, American Literary History and Black Camera. She is working on a book about African-American literature and the war on terror.

The Modern Language Association of America, founded in 1883, has nearly 30,000 members in 100 countries and works to strengthen the study and teaching of languages and literature. It provides opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy.

Media Contact


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Additional Contacts

Erica Edwards
Tel: (951) 827-5301
E-mail: erica.edwards@ucr.edu

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