Report of the Hubbell Committee
The Hubbell Award Committee for 2002 comprised Judith Fetterley (State U of New York at Albany), Chair, Rafael Pérez-Torres (UCLA), Richard Millington (Smith C), Cheryl A. Wall (Rutgers U), and Joel Myerson (U of South Carolina). As the recipient of the American Literature Section’s award for lifetime achievement in American literary studies it has chosen Annette Kolodny of the University of Arizona.
On behalf of the Hubbell Award Committee and the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association, it is my great pleasure and honor to present the Jay B. Hubbell Award for 2002 to Annette Kolodny. The Hubbell Award is designed to recognize those who have made a significant contribution to the scholarly study of American literature over the course of their career. In honoring Annette Kolodny this evening, we recognize someone whose contribution to the study of American literature is the equivalent of a sea change.
Annette Kolodny is a Professor in Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies at the University of Arizona. She has previously held faculty appointments at Yale University, the University of British Columbia, the University of New Hampshire, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. From 1988 to 1993, she served as Dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona. Her books and essays have received awards both in the United States and abroad, and she is herself the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. What brings us here tonight, however, is not just a vita of substance. We are here tonight because of the difference Annette Kolodny has made to our field and our profession. She has changed how we understand the “frontier.” She has made a place for feminist criticism within the field of American literature. She has demonstrated both the feasibility and the advisability of putting feminist principles into administrative practice. And she has given us a model of courage that is truly inspiring.
In her first two books, Annette Kolodny probed the developing mythology of the frontier through the critical lens provided by gender analysis. Honored as a foundational text in the field of ecocriticism, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters(1975) traces the connection between the figuring of land as woman and “what we have done to our continent.” By insisting on the connection between attitudes towards women and what we have done and continue to do to the land, she provided a framework for a radical re-thinking not only of American literature but also of American history. In her second book, The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontier, 1630-1860 (1984), Annette Kolodny offered us the first comprehensive study of women’s responses to the pioneering experience. In her search for “some alternative metaphorical design – one that would lead us away from our destructive capacities,” she found the image of the garden as domestic space and argued for the “imaginative daring of the domestic fictionists who challenged outright the nation’s infatuation with a wilderness Adam.”
In a series of landmark essays, Annette Kolodny has repeatedly brought a feminist perspective to bear on all “our grand obsessions” as Americanists, including our infatuation with the American Adam in all his many guises. Her work has been foundational to the field of feminist criticism. The reprint citation list for “A Map for Re-Reading: Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts” (1980) and “Dancing through the Minefields: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism” (1980) itself takes up two pages of her vita! As important as what she has said, however, is where she has said it. “A Map for Re-Reading” appeared in New Literary History, Spring 1980; “Turning the Lens on ‘The Panther Captivity’: A Feminist Exercise in Practical Criticism” appeared in Critical Inquiry, Winter 1981; “The Integrity of Memory: Creating a New Literary History of the United States” appeared in American Literature, May 1985. Professor Kolodny used her talents as writer, thinker, critic, and negotiator to place her work in the major journals of the field and thus to open up the pages of these journals to a radical feminist perspective. The response to these essays made it clear that the questions raised by feminist criticism were ones readers wanted to engage and this in turn made it easier for others to place their own feminist work in these journals.
But, as my students would say, this is soooo Annette –opening doors, empowering others, being a change agent. When Annette Kolodny was hired by the University of Arizona to be their new Dean of Humanities, it was, as she makes clear in Failing the Future: A Dean Looks at Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century (2000), with the explicit understanding that she would be an agent of change. It was also clear that her understanding of change included a feminist vision of the university. Nevertheless, I suspect that many of those who hired her had no idea what this would mean. When Annette Kolodny sees a problem, she also sees a solution and – here is where the difference lies — she sees a way to implement that solution. Though many Presidents and Provosts claim to want a “can do” attitude in their deans, when that means radical change they often change their tune and just as often their dean. As a radical feminist and an Associate Dean myself, I am most impressed by Annette Kolodny’s ability to implement the kinds of changes in administrative practice that feminist principles suggest and to demonstrate not only the feasibility of this kind of change but its advisability. I am also deeply moved by the fact that 30 years after she began the work that would eventuate in The Lay of the Land she is still trying to save our future. She has used her experience as Dean of Humanities at the University of Arizona to become a defender of the dream of publicly funded higher education as the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Since many of us situate our work as Americanists both within such universities and within the framework of this dream, her championship is equivalent to protecting the very space within which we do our work. When so many forces are lined up against the continuance of this dream into the 21 st century, I find Annette Kolodny’s response to these challenges not only moving but brilliant. “Whenever I am confronted by individuals eager to declare the imminent demise of the public research university,” she writes, “I always ask which of the nation’s major established institutions have really done better […] Rather than being labeled as a failing enterprise, the public research university [should] stand as an incredible success story, especially in comparison with the current state of our governmental and business institutions.” To which we can only say, how prophetic!
Being a dean has become an impossible job. Being an openly feminist dean committed to radical and systemic change looks like mission impossible. It is important to realize that during much of her tenure in this position, when she was in fact accomplishing mission impossible, Annette Kolodny experienced excruciating physical pain as her condition of rheumatoid arthritis worsened. The physical courage she demonstrated in this situation is equaled only by her long history of intellectual and moral courage. Annette Kolodny has consistently stood for, and stood up for, the principles of what we at the University at Albany refer to as a “just society.” She has protested against discrimination on her own behalf–an amazingly courageous act for its time and one that came close to getting her blacklisted. And she has protested against discrimination on behalf of others, using her own experience and resources to found the National Women’s Studies Association Task Force on Discrimination. More recently, she has become a voice in the profession identifying and protesting antifeminist intellectual harassment. She has had the courage to publicly identify herself as a feminist in every position she has held and to live through and down the theories of monstrosity that such a definition brings
Through her physical, intellectual, and moral courage, Annette Kolodny has made our profession itself a better place to be. She has made the profession more hospitable to diverse intellectual positions and to persons of diverse backgrounds. We honor her tonight, then, not only for her own scholarly contributions to the field of American literature but for all the contributions others have been able to make because of the doors she has opened. When looked at in this light, her influence is truly incalculable. Once again, it is my great honor and particular pleasure to present the 2002 Jay B. Hubbell Award to Annette Kolodny.
State University of New York at Albany
When Judith Fetterley called to tell me that I was to be awarded the Hubbell Medal at this MLA, I was nothing short of flabbergasted. Rarely am I rendered speechless–but as Judy will tell you, in this instance I couldn’t get out a coherent sentence for several minutes.
I am profoundly moved and gratified by this award. And I cannot sufficiently thank my colleagues in American literature for having deemed me worthy of it.
It is especially gratifying to accept this award in the company of the people in this room tonight. There are friends and colleagues here from every phase of my life and my career. Elaine Levine Machleder, whom I have called dear friend since second grade, and is now a freelance journalist in New York, is celebrating with me. My first position out of graduate school was in the English Department at Yale University, and two of my undergraduate students from that first year at Yale are also here tonight. James Glickman, himself now a professor of literature and creative writing, as well as an accomplished published novelist and short story writer, took my seminar on 20th-century American authors, and he wrote his first novel under my direction as his senior thesis at Yale. Jim’s son Daniel, also in the audience tonight, with his mother, Lisa Gelfand–another dear friend and chair of the French Department at Mt. Holyoke–will I hope one day also take a course with me. Also from that first job at Yale is the man who started out as my undergraduate student and then became my husband–and yes it was sexual harassment. My husband, the novelist Daniel Peters, has been and always will be the great love of my life and my best friend. He has been my playmate in good health and my caretaker in illness. Thank you, darling.
I see Cathy Davidson, whom I first met during the difficult years when I was fighting the denial of promotion and tenure at the University of New Hampshire. Ken Silverman introduced us at a conference, and Cathy read a paper for me at that conference when I was blinded by corneal abrasions brought on by the stress of the lawsuit. I have been privileged to call her a friend ever since. Joyce Ann Joyce and Jackson Bryer welcomed me as a colleague when I spent a visiting year in the English Department at the University of Maryland. I first met Joyce at the Reconstructing American Literature Project held at Yale in the summer of 1982; and with only paper-thin walls between us in the Yale dormitory, it felt like we were roommates. Judith Fetterley, who introduced me with such incredible generosity, has been a friend and colleague whom I have known both through the American literature community and the activist feminist community. Also here this evening are several of my current wonderful graduate students: Vermonja Alston, Jared Aragona, Donald McNutt, Linda Pierce, and Melissa Ryan. You are the reason I get up in the morning. And I can never sufficiently thank those of you who were always there to help me after I was diagnosed with cancer. The future of the profession is in good hands because you people are in it.
As many of you know, academia has not always been a welcoming home for me, but the American literature community has never failed to support and inspire me. At the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, I was a bit of a maverick, a political activist on the left, and outspoken as a feminist. I know at the time that many of my professors shared neither my political views nor approved my feminism, but never once did any one of them allow their disagreements to interfere with the mentoring they were so generously providing. People like Dick Hutson, Larry Ziff, Henry Nash Smith, and so many others shared their passion for American literature with unrelenting enthusiasm. And between them, Norman Grabo and Stanley Fish (even though Stanley was never an Americanist) taught me almost everything I know about how to read sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century texts as well as how to convey the importance of those texts to both graduates and undergraduates. In those days, Stanley and Norman were notorious conservatives, and yet they befriended me, became my lifelong friends, and mentored me unceasingly.
Years later, when I was denied promotion and tenure in the English Department at the University of New Hampshire, both the feminist and the American literature communities–especially my friends in early American literature–rallied round and promised they would not allow me to be banished from the profession. With both personal kindness and financial contributions to my Legal Fund, they supported me throughout the long five years of my Title VII suit against the English Department of the University. While some of my more stiff-necked colleagues at the University of New Hampshire called The Lay of the Land an “embarrassment,” “too sexual,” claimed that it had nothing to do with literature, or “concentrated too much on phalluses,” the American literature community insisted that neither controversy nor feminist approaches, when attached to serious scholarship, should ever be a reason for shunning anyone’s work. When my lawyers presented the University of New Hampshire lawyer with our list of eighty “expert witnesses,” that list literally ran from B to Z, beginning with Sacvan Bercovitch and ending with Larzer Ziff. One year at an MLA, Everett Emerson and Leo Lemay organized a small dinner for a group of early Americanists, quietly picking up my tab because I could not afford the dinner due to my strapping legal fees; and dear Everett toasted me at that dinner with the promise that, no matter what the present situation, he and others would see to it that I enjoyed a long and happy career as an early Americanist. When The Lay of the Land appeared from the University of North Carolina Press in 1975, it carried a blurb from C. Hugh Holman to the effect that it might be controversial but “it cannot be ignored.”
And, in fact, I did finally prevail against the University of New Hampshire. As many of you also know, I used part of my quite considerable financial award to establish the legal fund of the Taskforce against Academic Discrimination within the National Women’s Studies Association. And that fund has continued through today, always in the black, supporting Title VII suits against institutions that would silence the work of women and minority scholars.
But while I personally managed to successfully fight a denial of promotion and tenure, and while I have personally been able to survive and thrive in academia, many others of my generation were not so fortunate. There were many feminist women and minority scholars in the late 1960s and early 1970s who received Ph.D. degrees in English Departments across the country. But too few of them survived the promotion and tenure process–not because their work wasn’t good and certainly not because their work wasn’t important, but, rather, because their work was ahead of its time, excavating texts no one had yet heard of and asking unfamiliar questions about the texts we all thought we already knew. Too few of those scholars are here with us today. So I want to accept this award in their name–in honor of the colleagues who aren’t here–in order to acknowledge the pioneers who helped make my own work possible, those pioneers who were viciously punished by an academy fearful of controversy and hostile to any kind of change.
The radicalizing, questioning, experimental, and social justice commitments of the late 1960s and early 1970s that swept the American literature and American Studies communities and changed those fields forever–the commitments and concerns explored in all the good work by all the good people in this room today–have never been more urgent or more threatened than they are now. As I move toward the end of my career and look to a new generation of graduate students who will carry on the rich legacy of unfettered and independent-minded inquiry in American literary studies, I fear for their future. The nation is now in the grip of the mendacious, the selfish, and the short-sighted. We have a President who is the product of the best that American private education can offer and yet remains a man who is steadfastly stupid and willfully ignorant. Let us remember his comment during the presidential campaign that those in Latin America “speak Latin.” He and his administration have no regard for the mind-opening inquiry that literary studies in particular and the humanities in general can inspire. On the contrary, they understand perfectly well that what we all do is potentially dangerous to their globalizing enterprise. At our best, we teach students to ask probing questions and unpack the lines of any text, imaginative or political. And while the public at large may be generally supportive of higher education, that same public has been encouraged to think of higher education exclusively in limited practical terms. Will it get my son or daughter a job; and can those researchers cure cancer? We in the humanities have yet to develop a compelling public narrative that explains what we do and why it is so important. We in American literature, especially, have a special obligation to keep this society in touch with its history and its professed ideals. We need to demonstrate, again and again, that the best of this culture is rooted in dissent and respect for difference. Without at least some portion of the academy being willing to protect a space for dissent and difference, someone like me could never have survived in the profession I have loved so much. We need to pass that on, too, for the generations of scholars who will follow us.
Thank you so much.