Williamson Wins Space Between Essay Prize

Posted on 12/2/2019 2:15:35 PM

The Space Between Society offers a prize for the best essay presented at its annual conference. The winner of the 2019 Space Between Essay Prize is Michael Williamson (Department of English) for his essay, “Staging Nineteenth Century Jewish Literary and Religious Culture in the Face of Disaster.”

The prize committee had this to say about Williamson’s essay:

“This year’s Space Between Society Essay Prize Committee had the pleasure of reading an exceptionally strong selection of essays from the recent conference in Brookings, South Dakota. While several excellent papers emerged as contenders, the committee felt that Michael Williamson’s ‘Staging Nineteenth Century Jewish Literary and Religious Culture in the Face of Disaster’ offered the most compelling, urgent, and productively interdisciplinary argument in this strong pool.

“Williamson’s essay offers a breadth of scope and a methodological dexterity that are particularly remarkable. While the paper ranges from interwar surrealism in the Soviet Union to the ‘Theatre of the Real’ of the later 20th century, it seeks also to ‘mingle’ (Williamson’s word) the theoretical framework of black American ethnographers and folklorists with the tradition of European Jewish mystical writing. Williamson argues that what unites the distinct, and often contentious, representations of Jewish experience found in the surrealist and documentary modes that form his subject is an ethnographic imperative that verges on the literary-theoretical, and that resonates with writings by Zora Neale Hurston and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“By mining the past, both surrealism and the Theatre of the Real seek, as Williamson elegantly frames it, ‘to perform time itself—to convene time through language.’ At once profoundly meditative and precisely analytical, ‘Staging Nineteenth Century Jewish Literary and Religious Culture in the Face of Disaster’ challenges us with its sophisticated and spry manoeuvres across geography, history, memory, and language.”

Department of English