Melissa Bradshaw Wins Prestigious MLA Prize

Posted by Alyssa Berthiaume, Marketing Coordinator

Tonight, this post comes to you from Boston, where approximately 8,000 people have travelled to attend the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) annual conference. Tonight, among this crowd of devoted language and literature scholars, are this year’s MLA prize winners including Ashgate author Melissa Bradshaw, who will be receiving this year’s MLA Prize for Independent Scholars for her 2011 book, Amy Lowell, Diva Poet. Bradshaw’s book is “a monograph study of Lowell in light of theories of the diva; an exploration of Lowell in her specific cultural moment; and a study of her poetry” (Modernist Cultures, 2012).

Amy Lowell Diva PoetThe MLA Prize for Independent Scholars is one of fifteen awards being celebrated tonight. This prize recognizes Melissa Bradshaw’s outstanding achievement in published research. The members of MLA’s selection committee stated that Bradshaw’s monograph of Amy Lowell was “deeply engaging” and “offer[ed] a timely and thought-provoking reappraisal” of this woman, celebrity, poet and, of course, diva.

Given her scholarly devotion to Lowell, it was only a matter of time before Melissa Bradshaw’s efforts to establish Lowell’s place in the literary canon would be recognized. She has been writing about Lowell at least as far back as 2000, the same year that she completed her Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. This was also around the same time that Bradshaw became interested in “the diva—as a powerful and dangerous figure of feminine gendering in a culture of celebrity” (Pattell and Waterman’s History of New York, Cambridge Contributor: Melissa Bradshaw, 2010). Now, thirteen years later, Bradshaw is receiving her hard-earned recognition and receiving it from, arguably, the most important organization in modern languages and literatures.

What makes recognition of Bradshaw’s “carefully researched, subtly reasoned reassessment of Lowell’s poetry” (Women’s Review of Books, 2012) all the more satisfying is that she herself encountered significant institutional resistance to this project (as stated in her Acknowledgments). The resistance to the project, regardless of its source, is wildly ironic given that Amy Lowell— though hugely popular and iconic at her time—was extremely controversial and in so being, faced continual criticism alongside her fame during her short but prolific career. She “masterfully exploited her notoriety as a woman poet” (Bradshaw, 2011, p3) and purposefully ignored the conventions of femininity or heterosexuality. And for all of these things her artistic reputation was destroyed after death and she all but disappeared from literary history.

Now an entire century after Lowell’s first publication in 1912, we have a Lowell revival of which Bradshaw has “confirmed her position at the forefront” (Modernist Cultures, 2012). Just as Healy and Ingram cited Lowell’s “unlimited faith in her own capability” (Amy Lowell, Poetry Foundation, 2012), Bradshaw may have just channeled a little bit of this same strength in her determination to see this project through. The primary purpose of her monograph was to assert that Amy Lowell was, in fact, worth writing about. In light of being honored with the MLA Prize for Independent Scholars, I venture to say not only has she made her case, but she may have found a little diva in herself, too.

Melissa Bradshaw is a faculty member in the Writing Program at Loyola. Her research focuses on publicity, personality, and fandom in twentieth–century American literature and popular culture.

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