Cornell’s Derrick Spires Wins First Book Award From the Modern Language Association

Derrick R. Spires, an associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has won the Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book. He was honored for the book The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

In the book, Dr. Spires examines the parallel development of early Black print culture and legal and cultural understandings of U.S. citizenship between 1787 and 1861. Dr. Spires will be presented with the award during the MLA’s annual convention, to be held online in January.

The award committee calls The Practice of Citizenship a “gorgeously written, powerfully argued and extensively researched book that casts vivid new light on a timely and important topic. Spires pursues an impressively broad exploration of Black print culture of all kinds, including the surviving minutes of political meetings in which Black Americans sought not only to secure their full rights of citizenship but also to define citizenship itself in ways that resonate powerfully today in the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Dr. Spires joined the faculty at Cornell in 2019 after teaching at the Univerity of Illinois for seven years. He is a graduate of Tougaloo College in Mississippi, where he majored in English. Dr. Spires earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.


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