Brooklyn College Professor William P. Childers has become the first CUNY professor to win the Modern Language Association’s Katherine Singer Kovacs prize for his book Transnational Cervantes (University of Toronto Press, 2006). The award, presented by one of the most prestigious scholarly associations in academe, goes to an outstanding book published in English in the field of Latin American and Spanish literatures and cultures.
“I thought the book was very risky but I went ahead and wrote the book I wanted to write,” says Childers. “I took a lot of chances knowing it would have detractors. So getting the prize for me was a confirmation that there were going to be people in my field who would support it.”
In the book, Childers tried to find ways to make connections between the 16th Century writings of Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra-who was a wildly influential Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright-and the cultural, religious, and political issues of today. His most famous novel was Don Quixote, considered a classic of Western literature, but Cervantes also wrote a lot about Latin culture and about relations between Christians and Muslims.
“History has this way of moving in circles and sometimes by going back to the past, we can understand our own circumstances better,” says Childers, whose research interests include Renaissance and Baroque Spanish literature. “Old literature can help us do that in ways that simply studying history can’t.”
Childers will receive the award at the MLA’s annual convention later this month, where he will also receive a $1,000 prize.
In the MLA committee’s citation for the book, they wrote: “Undaunted by the vastness of Cervantine scholarship, William P. Childers’s Transnational Cervantes devises a new context for reading Cervantes.”
An associate professor and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature, Childers came to Brooklyn College in 2001. In 2005, he received a joint appointment at the CUNY Graduate Center. He was previously director of the McCauley Honors College at Brooklyn College. He also has been the recipient of a Whiting Foundation fellowship and has authored more than a dozen scholarly articles. He is currently working on a book, tentatively titled Spain’s Last Moors, concerning the Morisco question and its role in the emergence of new Spanish identity in Baroque style.