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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Winner, Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize, New England American Studies Association

Racial Innocence has won the Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize, given by the New England American Studies Association. I am thrilled and honored to win this award, and I thank the NEASA and in particular the Rudnick prize committee: Aaron Lecklider, Jeffrey Meriwether, and chair Ben Railton (who runs the terrific website American Studier). I am especially pleased because Lois P. Rudnick's research was useful to my own. Lois Rudnick is a wonderful literary scholar and biographer who has written many books on modernism and the "new woman," and in particular on Mabel Dodge Luhan, the famous patron of the arts who was in social circles that included, in Paris, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and, in Taos, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe. In Racial Innocence, I cite an astonishing passage from Intimate Memories, The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan, which Rudnick edited. In this memoir, Luhan recalls how, as a girl, she sadistically attacked the genital region of a black doll. The memory is offered with no apology or embarrassment; if anything, Luhan relates the racist violence with relish (she recalls that the attack on the doll aroused in her girl-self "a queer delicious kind of pleasure, both mysterious and yet familiar"). The incident is one of the most vicious and disturbing that I recount in my book (you can read about Luhan's attack on the doll on pages 209-210 in my book and pp. 17-18 in Intimate Memories). Rudnick's new book, The Suppressed Memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan: Sex, Syphilis, and Psychoanalysis in the Making of Modern American Culture, was just published this year by the University of New Mexico Press, and I hear that the violence in that book is even more disturbing. I haven't read that book yet, but I certainly will soon.

Sometimes I have mixed feelings about the amplitude of violence that I document in my book. But then I am reminded that no matter how much violence I recount, there is infinitely more in history. I wanted my book to historicize violence in a new way--especially by taking seriously the violence perpetrated by white children like Mabel Dodge Luhan. I thank the NEASA for honoring this project, even as it brings to light so much pain.

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