Spring 2001

The Shaughnessy Prize Comes Home



ina 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.

Suresh Canagarajah encouraging the learning of English at a school in Sri Lanka
Suresh 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.