Presented by John Ernest, University of Delaware, chair of the American Literature Society Hubbell Award Committee
Modern Language Association conference
New York, New York
January 6, 2018
The The Jay B. Hubbell Medal 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. This year the committee consisted of John Ernest, Trudier Harris, Susan Griffin, Jay Watson, and Philip Gura. On behalf of the Committee and the American Literature Society, it is an honor to announce that the recipient of the 2017 Hubbell Medal is William L. Andrews.
Professor Andrews received his B.A. from Davidson College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His prestigious and influential career has taken him from Texas Tech University to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then to the University of Kansas, where he was the Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Professor of American Literature, and finally back to UNC-Chapel Hill, where he serves as the E. Maynard Adams Professor of English. He has been recognized from the beginning of the career for his distinguished contributions to the field. He has received the Norman Foerster Prize for best article of the year in American Literature, the William Riley Parker Prize for the outstanding article of the year in PMLA, the Render Award for outstanding scholarship from the Charles W. Chesnutt Society, the American Library Association Outstanding Reference Source for The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, and the Outstanding Library Program Award from the Southeastern Library Network for his work on the enormously influential website Documenting the American South. Among his many honors as well is an NEH Research Fellowship and an American Council of Learned Societies Research Fellowship, and he has served as a Fellow in the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, an Espy Fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and an Academic Leadership Fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities.
Behind these many awards is a body of work that has been required reading for anyone interested in African American literature and the Southern American literature. Among the many books that he has written, edited, or co-edited are The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, and The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology, among countless others. Speaking for myself, I can’t imagine my scholarly and teaching career without the guidance of The Oxford Companion to African American Literature and his important collection of critical essays on African American autobiography; and my scholarship and teaching both have been guided in many ways by such groundbreaking editions of nineteenth-century African American writing as Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century, From Fugitive Slave to Free Man: The Autobiographies of William Wells Brown, The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, and Julia C. Collins’s The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride, among many other of Professor Andrews’s many recoveries of important writers and texts.
Professor Andrews has been influential as well in his work as general editor of Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography, a book series published by the University of Wisconsin Press, Associate Editor of the important journal a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, and especially as series editor of North American Slave Narratives, Beginnings to 1920, a complete digitized library of autobiographies and biographies of North American slaves and ex-slaves, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ameritech, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Through this digital archive, DocSouth, Professor Andrews has made hundreds of texts available that have not been accessible before, changing the field significantly in the process. And through his other work, he has done much to shape how we respond to that archive.
In short, Professor Andrews’s influence on the field of African American studies has been immense, immeasurable, but some of his most important work has taken place behind the scenes. In at least one case, in fact, Professor Andrews work was so far behind the scenes that he didn’t even know about it himself. Many years ago, when I started my career as a white scholar dedicated to African American literary history, I found myself in great need of a mentor. I received no instruction on the subject while working towards my PhD, and it was easier at that time to find examples of how not to proceed as a white scholar in this field than to find examples worthy of emulation. I was fortunate–blessed–to find a mentor who could guide me not only intellectually but ethically through this field that had become the center of my life. The strange thing was that this mentor was someone I had never met, someone I wouldn’t meet for many years–but along with Francis Smith Foster, also someone I had never met, Professor Andrews taught me well and guided me in ways large and small that would be difficult now to summarize. Over time, I was able to meet him and benefit from more traditional mentoring, but everything I needed was there in his work long before we met–ethical guidance, an example of scrupulous and responsible scholarship, and a commitment to getting it right which involved a certain degree of ongoing self-examination. I’ve learned a great deal from him though the years, and I’m learning from him still. But I’m not alone, not by a long shot, for one of Professor Andrews’s greatest achievements, and what will be his ongoing contribution to the field, is his commitment to being a mentor to younger scholars. It seems that just about everyone I know has benefitted from his guidance in one way or another, and his influence will continue to be felt through the many scholars trying to live up to his example.
In adding his name to the list of those eminent scholars who have won the Jay B. Hubbell Medal, we acknowledge the work Professor Andrews has done both in front of and behind the scenes, from his groundbreaking scholarship to his untiring service to the profession, and from his dedicated mentoring to his commitment to excellence in the classroom. The study of American literature is richer and more demanding because of the work he has done, and our lives are richer and more demanding because of the example he has set. It is with great pride that I present to you this year’s recipient of this prestigious award, Professor William L. Andrews.
John Ernest (Chair, University of Delaware)
Trudier Harris (University of Alabama)
Susan M. Griffin (University of Louisville)
Jay Watson (University of Mississippi)
Philip Gura (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)