Shaugnessy's "work was the kind of work you would do if you
were really to take democracy seriously." Such was the praise
of the renowned literary scholar Benjamin Demott for CUNY's beloved
pioneer in the field of teaching basic writing.
Canagarajah encouraging the learning of English at a school
in Sri Lanka.
In just ten
years, before she died of cancer in 1978, Shaughnessy rose from
adjunct at Hunter College to become Dean of the University's Instructional
Resource Center, exerting during this time an enormous influence
on writing pedagogy at CUNY and nationally. In 1979, the Modern
Language Association, the largest and one of the oldest American
learned societies, established in her honor the annual Mina P. Shaughnessy
Prize for an outstanding publication in the field of teaching English
language and literature.
It is thus cause for special celebration when this prize returns
to a CUNY campus, as it did at the MLA convention in Washington,
D.C. last December. A. Suresh Canagarajah, a professor in the English
Department at Baruch College since 1994, was honored (and received
$1,000) for his Oxford University Press book, Resisting Linguistic
Imperialism in English Language Teaching. This study was cited by
the committee of judges for addressing "a range of issues derived
from the association of English with liberal Western culture"
and for offering "an alternative form of understanding and
valuing discourses that emanate. . .from the cultural periphery
as well as from the center."
Canagarajah's book grew from observation of Tamil speakers in his
native Sri Lanka who were learning academic English. (He taught
at the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka from 1984 to 1994.) Forthcoming
from Pittsburgh University Press this year is another book by Canagarajah,
Geopolitics of Academic Literacy and Knowledge Construction.
CUNY faculty have won the Shaughnessy Prize three times before:
Marie Ponsot and Rosemary Deen (Queens College) in 1982, Judith
Summerfield (Queens College) in 1986, and Marilyn S. Sternglass
(City College) in 1997.