Presented by Leonard Cassuto, Fordham University, chair of the American Literature Society Hubbell Award Committee
Modern Language Association conference
January 7, 2017
The Jay B. Hubbell Medal is the highest award in American literary studies. It is given each year to a scholar who has made an extraordinary contribution to the study of American literature over a lifetime career. This year the award committee consisted of John Richard Ernest, Trudier Harris, Susan Griffin, Jay Watson, and Leonard Cassuto (chair). On behalf of the committee and the American Literature Society, we are honored to announce that the recipient of the 2016 Hubbell Medal is Professor José David Saldívar.
Professor Saldívar received his B.A. from Yale University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University, where he is the Leon Sloss, Jr. Professor of Comparative Literature. He previously taught at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was the Class of 1942 Professor of English and Ethnic Studies. Among his many honors, Professor Saldívar received the Distinguished Achievement Award for Literary and Cultural Criticism from the Western Literature Association (2003), and the Chicano Scholar of the Year Award from the Modern Language Association (2005).
The contemporary concern in American literary studies with the definition and literary borders of “America” owes much to the foundational work of José David Saldívar. His work helped to initiate the transnational turn in American Studies over the past generation, and for more than twenty years he has continued to lead the field beyond its traditional exceptionalism and open it up more conscientiously to hemispheric encounters and exchanges. His many articles and books, especially Dialectics of Our America: Genealogy, Cultural Critique, and Literary History (Duke University Press, 1991) and Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies (University of California Press, 1997), are field-making works.
Saldívar conceives Chicano/a studies as cultural studies, merging methodologies into a broad inquiry into the meaning not only of minority culture, but of culture itself. Saldívar conceives of the study of the literature, art, music, and culture of any group as a connected endeavor, in which minority and majority must be studied in relation to each other. “What changes,” he asks in Border Matters, “when culture is understood in terms of material hybridity, not purity?” With Gloria Anzaldúa and others, Saldívar has led the way in theorizing border zones as fertile conceptual and cultural spaces, creating a new scholarly field, border studies, in the process. He has likewise been a major figure in the broadening and diversification of what constitutes American literature and literacies. Both of these intellectual innovations have helped reenergize a field long overinvested in nationalist ideology—and they continue to do so.
Saldívar’s scholarship is characterized by a consistently imaginative and valuable application of methodologies that are more often siloed and narrowly applied in other fields. In Trans-Americanity: Subaltern Modernities, Global Coloniality, and the Culture of Greater Mexico (2011), for example, he works creatively through Anbial Quijano’s and Immanuel Wallerstein’s 1992 analysis, “Americanity as a Concept” and points up the shortcomings of postcolonial theory as a critique for the Americas and its history. But he retains the subaltern as a workable heuristic for critiquing the work of minority writers in the US. The book is simultaneously complex and hopeful that theoretical models will emerge to address the great silences on the part of intellectuals about the Americas.
Saldívar’s scholarship teaches in and out of the classroom. In 2007 he received the Sarlo Distinguished Graduate Student Mentoring Award from the University of California, Berkeley. But his teaching extends further. Saldívar’s work has been important to many scholars working in minority and ethnic fields. He strategically yet artfully situates literature that is often designated marginal into a hemispheric and global context. In his critiques, José Martí rests easily with Sandra Cisneros and Gabriel García Márquez.
These moves are illuminating and exciting and widely inspiring in the broader field of literary studies. Certainly they have inspired us, and for these and many other achievements, we are proud to award this year’s Hubbell Medal to José David Saldívar.
Leonard Cassuto, with assistance from Jay Watson, Susan Griffin, and Daniel D. Contreras.