2021 and 2022 NAVSA Book Prize Winners

NAVSA is immensely pleased to announce Book Prize winners for books published in 2021 and 2022.

The winning title for 2021 is Tanya Agathocleous’s Disaffected: Emotion, Sedition, and Colonial Law in the Anglosphere. Honorable mention for 2021 goes to Talia Schaffer's Communities of Care: The Social Ethics of Victorian Fiction.

The winner for 2022 is In Their Own Write: Contesting the New Poor Law, 1834-1900 by Steven King, Paul Carter, Natalie Carter, Peter Jones, and Carol Beardmore. The honorable mention for 2022 is Kristin Mahoney's Queer Kinship After Wilde: Transnational Decadence and the Family.

Here's what the judges have to say about these spectacular books:

Tanya Agathocleous, Disaffected: Emotion, Sedition, and Colonial Law in the Anglosphere (Cornell UP, 2021)

Disaffected is distinguished by its powerful contributions to British and colonial studies, the richness of its archive, and its innovative methodologies. With an impressive range of sources, from legal cases to parodic cartoons to political speeches, Tanya Agathocleous traces strategies of anticolonial critique within British India—resistance to the government’s policing of anticolonial sentiment, or “disaffection.” In what surely must have been among the most peculiar strategies of Empire, the British attempted to regulate emotion: “disaffection” is a feeling of hatred toward the government that became legally punishable in nineteenth-century India. Focusing in particular on colonial newspapers, Disaffected shows both how subversive speech was policed and how a counterpublic sphere of critique took shape, specifically through parodic resistance that helped to contextualize an Indian nation distinct from the British Empire. A major addition to the field, Agathocleous’s work offers methods for discerning innovative forms and counter-hegemonic viewpoints within the larger political and cultural framework of empire. Beyond the specificity of its focus on imperial India, the book is a model for scholars navigating uneven archives in complex political environments.

Talia Schaffer, Communities of Care: The Social Ethics of Victorian Fiction (Princeton UP, 2021)

The paradigm-shifting Communities of Care grows organically out of the prize-winning Romance’s Rival: Familiar Marriage in Victorian Fiction, in which Talia Schaffer challenges the primacy of affective marriage in novels and in the real lives of Victorian men and women, arguing for the centrality of disability, its management, and care to what she calls “familiar marriage.” Communities of Care places disability at the center of a broader cultural analysis whose key setting is community rather than marriage. The book would have been helpful enough if it simply applied disability studies to Victorian texts; what it does in addition—or rather instead—is to historicize disability, and in particular the sense—more shocking perhaps to us than to the Victorians—that the able body is always subject to change in status, and that living in a body temporarily or permanently disabled requires a community and an ethos that understands and provides for the vulnerable. While not the first scholarly book to discuss the “ordinary” disabled bodies in Victorian and later novels, Communities of Care does this within a full and supple encounter with disability theorists from a wide range of disciplines, always attentive not only to debates within this relatively recent field but also to the contribution Victorian understandings of the body, the community, and the work of care can make to a history and theory of disability.

Steven King, Paul Carter, Natalie Carter, Peter Jones, and Carol Beardmore, In Their Own Write: Contesting the New Poor Law, 1834-1900 (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2022)

Pioneering a collaborative method that marshals the efforts of scores of volunteers, the authors of In Their Own Write transcribe and analyze a corpus of thousands of letters written by poor people and their allies to the British poor law authorities between 1834 and 1900. As Steven King, Paul Carter, Natalie Carter, Peter Jones, and Carol Beardmore demonstrate, this body of writing not only illuminates how the poor “experienced, contested, and navigated” nineteenth-century welfare provision but demands a fundamental rethinking of poor law policy and administrative practice. The voices of welfare recipients—often absent in studies of national debates about poverty—formed an integral part of an “interpretive community” that struggled over the terms of welfare in the years following the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. What emerges is a picture of the New Poor Law, frequently taken as a revolution in government and social policy, as the beginning of a series of dynamic contests in which poor people at times succeeded in winning improvements to their conditions and the workhouse regime while putting pressure on local and national administrators to better respond to the needs of economically vulnerable people. These letters disclose various and shared experiences of the diverse populations that received government support, including children and the elderly, people with disabilities, women, and un- or under-employed male wage earners. By reconstructing the rhetorical arsenals of these groups, King, Carter, Carter, Jones, and Beardmore make clear that writing was very much “a weapon of the weak.” This history from below of the New Poor Law—and the corpus of letters it utilizes—insures that the voices of the poor will necessarily be part of future studies of social welfare, government administration and information management, disability, gender politics, and Victorian periodicals and media.

Kristin Mahoney, Queer Kinship After Wilde: Transnational Decadence and the Family (Cambridge UP, 2022)

In the richly researched and surprising Queer Kinship After Wilde, Kristin Mahoney explores the archives of British subjects who sought to establish queer alternative worlds of affective and sexual ties. The lives of her subjects span the last few decades of the nineteenth century and the first few of the twentieth. The “after Wilde” of her title signals, of course, the cataclysmic impact on gay life of Oscar Wilde’s trials for indecency. But it also indicates Mahoney’s demonstration of the many ways in which early twentieth-century sexual dissidents drew for years upon the aesthetic, religious, and intellectual formations of late-nineteenth-century Decadence. In this regard, Mahoney’s contribution to queer studies is also an example of what we rightly call the “undisciplining” of Victorian studies: it redraws our understanding of cultural history by overturning the traditional divide between Victorian and Modernist studies. Mahoney’s book “undisciplines” the field as well through its methodologies, bringing the analytical methods of a literary critic to a remarkably deep archive of primary documents ranging from letters and memoirs to photo albums. Beautifully written and absorbingly readable, Queer Kinship After Wilde guides readers through forgotten worlds that resonate deeply today.


Please join us in congratulating these authors on their achievements. (If possible, do so in person at the Book Prize panel in Bloomington this November.) Finally, let's thank our judges for their hard work and boundless generosity: Helena Michie and Jason Rudy for the 2021 prize; Adela Pinch and Greg Vargo for the 2022 prize.