Ohio State English Professor Welcomes Prestigious Award: Award-Winning Book Traces Literacy, Social Activism in the Lives of 19th Century Black Women. (Faculty Club)

Article excerpt

Dr. Jacqueline Jones Royster of Ohio State University has won the Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize from the Modern Languages Association, given annually for an outstanding work of research on the teaching of English.

Royster's award-winning book, Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women (2000), was honored along with 15 others at the MLA's annual convention, held in December in New Orleans. The prize carries a $1,000 honorarium.

Speaking from her office at Ohio State, where she serves as an associate dean for faculty and research, Royster says she was "deeply touched" at being chosen for the highly prestigious award -- and more than a little surprised.

"I don't do things thinking that I'll be rewarded for them, so even with the nomination, I thought only that it would be nice to win. In fact, by the time they called me (with the award notification), I had actually forgotten about it. I had to ask, `What award was that again?'" she recalls.

When the caller jogged her memory, Royster says she found it particularly rewarding to have received a prize named after someone she so greatly admired -- a figure who was one of the leading lights in the field of rhetoric and composition while Royster was herself being trained. Shaughnessy, a dean at the City University of New York in the mid- to late 1970s, directed CUNY's Basic Writing program, taught composition and literature, supervised the editorial training program at McGraw Hill publishers, and wrote one of the key texts of its era: Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of English (1977).

Royster's Traces of a Stream explores the dynamic linkages between literacy and social activism in the lives of a group of largely unknown 19th century African American women. Royster examines their struggles with the dual burdens of race and class, describing their achievements as public speakers and essayists who wielded both tongues and pens with grace and force in battles to end lynching, establish schools, and serve communities beset by a wide array of hostile social and political forces.

Royster, a noted scholar in literacy, rhetorical studies and women's studies, builds on previous work with the new volume -- notably Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Antilynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1997), which she edited. But in other ways, the book represents a return to her roots, for Royster is both a graduate of and spent 16 years on the English faculty at Spelman College.

Indeed, she says she's always felt "what a blessing it was to be at a place like Spelman College, a place where women of African descent were at the center of what was discussed and taught and lived on a daily basis. …