2011-Linda Wagner-Martin

Report of the Hubbell Award Committee

The Jay B. Hubbell Award is given each year to a scholar who has made an extraordinary contribution to the study of American literature over the course of his or her career. In 2010, committee members recognized Professor Frances Smith Foster for her outstanding work. Members of the Hubbell Award Committee for 2011 were as follows:

Shirley Samuels, Cornell University, (2012 Chair)
William L. Andrews, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, (2013 Chair)
Ivy Schweitzer, Dartmouth College, (2014 Chair)

Nancy Bentley, University of Pennsylvania (2015 Chair)

Citation for Professor Linda Wagner-Martin from the Award Committee

On behalf of the Award Committee and the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association, it is my great pleasure to present the Jay B. Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies to Linda Wagner-Martin. The Hubbell Medal recognizes scholars who have made major contributions to the contemporary understanding of American literature.  The roster of Hubbell Medal award winners reads like a who’s who of renowned scholars and critics.  This year’s winner has been a pioneer, a standard setter, and an exemplar for more than a half century.  She’s also been a friend and colleague for about thirty years, although I’ve admired her and her work for longer than that.  I’ve also been the recipient, like probably a few other folks in this room, of Linda’s tough love, shall we say, for which I am also grateful, even if at the time I received it, I may not have always expressed my enthusiasm for it.


For the last 23 years, Linda Wagner-Martin  has been the Frank Borden and Barbara Lasater Hanes Distinguished Professor of English at UNC-Chapel Hill.  She came to Chapel Hill from Michigan State University, where she had served as Chair of the English Department and as an Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Letters.  On June 30th, 2011, Linda “retired.”  Since Linda is one of the least retiring people I know, I expect her within the next year or two to complete a substantial book on literary retirement.  She’s written a book about practically every other literary figure and subject in the last 100 years, so why not that?


But let’s begin at the beginning.  When Linda “retired” six months ago, she brought at least to a formal conclusion a teaching career of more than fifty years, beginning when she taught English and Drama in high schools in Ohio and Michigan.  In 1963, she and an African American man were the first two individuals to earn a PhD from Bowling Green State University.  Three decades later, Linda became the first woman to preside over the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Board (1993-96), an office she held a second time a decade later.  In this position she played a key role in extending access to Hemingway materials for research and publication to a more diverse array of scholars, especially women, than had been customary.  In nearly every organization she joined, Linda played a leadership role, becoming President of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, of the Ellen Glasgow Society, of the Society for the Study of Narrative Technique, and of the American Literature Section of the MLA.

My UNC colleague, Beverly Taylor, has an apt way of characterizing Linda’s vita.  It’s long enough to wallpaper a fair-sized room.  There’s no time to do more than simply list the big categories of her scholarship, but here goes.  Linda has published, at last count (I didn’t check in the last couple of weeks, so this number is probably a little low):  24 books of criticism and biography; two textbooks; the ground-breaking Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States and the anthology The Oxford Book of Women’s Writing in the United States (both co-edited with Cathy N. Davidson); and 26 edited essay collections, bibliographies, and reviews of scholarship.   My considered scholarly assessment of this corpus of work is:  WHEW!  When I reflect on the fact that Linda has published an average of one book per year for the last half century, I don’t know which to admire more ñ the creativity or the stamina.


Linda has written and edited books or published essays and articles on anybody who was somebody in the 20th-century American canon, including William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Edgar Lee Masters, Ellen Glasgow, Sylvia Plath, Edith Wharton, William Inge, Lillian Hellman, Robert Creeley, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Barbara Kingsolver, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.D., Marianne Moore, Kay Boyle, David Ignatow, e. e. cummings, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Ann Grau, Anne Sexton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gloria Naylor, Anne Tyler, Lee Smith, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood.  I’m only getting warmed up, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stop there.  Although I should mention that Linda’s first publications were on John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and Shakespeare.  In her “spare” time ñ all puns intended, Linda found time to publish two volumes of her own poetry.  Then there are the 62 book chapters, 120 journal articles, and 25 encyclopedia articles you can find in her vita.


As I perceive a greenish tinge spreading over the faces of this audience, I think we should just skip the hundreds of book reviews and the conference papers and the invited lectures I was going to touch on for this occasion.   Come to think of it, you probably don’t even want to know how many editorial boards and prize committees and promotion review committees she’s served on.  So we’ll just pass over that lightly too.


In case you’re wondering, Linda Wagner-Martin is not Superwoman. I can state that with confidence because Superwoman had no kids, whereas Linda raised a family of three.   You may decide to dispute Linda’s super status with me, however, after you hear about the fellowships, honors, and awards Linda has garnered during her superb, if not super, career:  there’s the Bunting Institute fellowship, of course, and the Guggenheim, and the fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Rockefeller Foundation. We’re just hitting the high points here.  But we shouldn’t ignore the Woman Achiever’s Award at Michigan State University, or the College English Association Teacher-Scholar Award, or the American Woman of Letters Award from the Robert Frost Society; or the Honorary Doctor of Letters from her alma mater; or the Citation for Exceptional Merit from the Ohio House of Representatives.


Anybody curious about Linda’s teaching?  Well, let me warn you, it’s more of the same.  At UNC she won a Women’s Studies Teaching Award, the UNC Post-Baccalaureate Teaching Award, and, on top of that, the William C. Friday Prize for Excellence in Teaching.  As Linda’s UNC colleague, I, personally, would kill to get just one of those awards, but for Linda winning teaching awards in university competition has been insufferably routine.  Talk about grace under pressure.


I do need to highlight one award Linda won during her fabulous teaching career:  the UNC English Department’s Graduate Student Association Mentor Award.  I have it on good authority that during her entire professional career Linda Wagner-Martin has directed approximately 200 dissertations and theses.  When I think of a lifetime contribution to the study of American letters, it seems to me that, in Linda’s case, we’re probably talking about something like 200 lifetimes of studying American literature, and that doesn’t begin to calculate all the students she’s taught and advised, in one capacity or another, from doctoral defenses to freshman seminars and everything in between for lo these many decades.  Having had an office on the same hall as Linda’s, I can testify to the fact that I never ñ I mean never ñ saw Linda Wagner-Martin in her office without at least one student in there with her.  Many of these students were female, and there’s no telling how many were inspired by Linda’s teaching and her scholarship about men and women writers and by Linda’s example as a magisterial woman of letters herself.


When we talk about mentoring students, in short, Linda Wagner-Martin wrote the book.  And that’s not just a figure of speech, either.  Give her a year or two, and she probably will write a book on it.  And we’ll all do well to read it too.


What an honor it is for all of us to celebrate you, Linda, for you magnificent and unparalleled professional career.  Please accept our applause and thanks for all you have done to

change and vastly improve the ways we teach, study, interpret, and evaluate American literature.


William L. Andrews, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Hubbell Acceptance Speech By Linda Wagner-Martin

Thanks, Bill, it is great to have a friend who can combine his real work with administration.


I remember the words of Americanists, tucked away as they are in literal corners of the humanities. One continues to think of the words frontier and horizon with the study of American letters, as well as the words helpfulness and generosity.


I remember dear Lou Budd in his long years of editing American Literature, using me as a tie-breaker for controversial essays, andóin the days when women scholars were somewhat rareóbeing asked to serve on the perpetual committee to assess the possibility of seceding from the MLA: I can see Louis Rubin’s and Jim Cox’s twinkling eyes as they made that motion year after year. (American literature did not secede, but Alfred Bendixen provided a different kind of solution when he single handedly, and on a slim shoestring, formed the ALA, the American Literature Association –Thanks, Alfred).


I remember being mocked for the first twenty years of my career, “you DO know you are in the wrong century?” (Where did all these friends who were Twain scholars and Hawthorne people come from?) Well, years pass and the stigma of being “in” the twentieth and now the twenty-first century begins to ameliorate.


I remember being warned NOT to review any book if my critique would have to be negative.


I was reared by some great Americanists. For twenty years, Russel B. Nye kept the department at Michigan State on track: I can still see him, leaning against the office door frame and warning me away from yet another battle over curriculum: choose a different battle, and wait till next year. It was Russ who left clippings he thought would interest us younger scholars in our mailboxes, as if wherever his mind moved, we younger faculty were in his sights. And who said, sagely, MEET DEADLINES. Get your work in on time.


My dissertation director, Fred Eckman, was himself a poet, and he made us care about the values of wordsówords in poems but also the words in our own academic prose. Words are counters: you can spend them only once.


I remember Annette Kolodny explaining in her painstaking way that I loved a text because of what it said but SHE loved it because of what it told her about the times and the culture.


I remember Nina Bayn telling the feminists at Jeanne Campbell Reesman’s splendid San Antonio conference that they were NOT going to like what she was about to say, which was that they should write their first book about a male author (as Nina had, on Hawthorne). Mutterings … mutterings. Nina was never afraid of the mutterings…


I remember the surprise in Bernice Slote’s voice when I phoned to ask her to stand for election to the American Literature board of editors, and the hesitation in his voice when Alfred Kazin gave his remarks upon receiving this very medal, and the consistent willingness to cajole that marked Paul Lauter’s voice as the Heath Anthology board of editors met again and again over Tables of Contents, and changes to Tables of Contents, and revisions, and revisions, and revisions.


And most of all I remember all those serious minded graduate students, in both the Michigan State program and the University of North Carolina programówho never asked for enough, but also always won their tenure… and I’m sure are passing forward whatever help they can give their own students, undergrad as well as graduate. Part of the joy of being an Americanist is the study of texts, yes, but a larger part is the kind of people who take up the enterprise, the torch, and become involved in teaching others to write and to read. Blessings…and thank you so much for this wonderful honor.

Linda Wagner-Martin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill