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Three Penn faculty members—including one who is also an alumna—have been honored with major literary prizes this spring.

In early April, History Professor Steven Hahn received the Pulitzer Prize for A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration. Published by Harvard University Press, the book traces the development of black politics in the 19th century and tells how black political struggles shaped the South and the nation through slavery and the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the “Jim Crow” era. Hahn reveals that blacks were far more knowledgeable about local and national politics during slavery than generally recognized, and far more active and assertive in pursuing their social and political goals in the post-Civil War era. Publishers Weekly called the book “original and deeply informed,” and noted that it continues the “ongoing demolition of the myth of the submissive slave cowering before his master and the ignorant freedman waiting passively for his ‘40 acres and a mule’ to fall from the sky.”

In March, when the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced in New York, Paul Hendrickson, a longtime feature writer for The Washington Post who teaches a popular non-fiction writing course at Penn, took home the non-fiction award for Sons of Mississippi, his searching examination of racial attitudes across generations, published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf last year and this year in a Vintage paperback. Using a 1962 photograph that appeared in Life magazine depicting seven local sheriffs in the days before Mississippi State University was forcibly integrated by James Meredith as a starting point, Hendrickson traces the lives of the men and their families in the years since to ask, “Where did the hatred and the sorrow go that flowed out of that moment … How did a gene of intolerance and racial fear mutate as it passed sinuously through time and the family bloodstream? How has that gene reshaped itself, and possibly for the better?”

And poet-critic Susan Stewart Gr’78, the Regan Professor of English at Penn and a MacArthur Fellow, received the National Book Critics Circle’s poetry award for Columbarium, published by the University of Chicago Press, which The Boston Review praised as “deeply disturbing poems of original and unforgettable craft.” The collection, Stewart’s first since The Forest in 1995, is modeled on the 17th century practice of century forms (books of 100 pages) and is described on the book jacket as “both a memorial to the dead and a testament to life.”


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