History lecturer wins literary award for first book

29 September 2010

Becoming African Americans, by Clare Corbould.
Becoming African Americans, by Clare Corbould.

Dr Clare Corbould, senior lecturer from the Department of History, has been awarded the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for a First Book of History, which comes with a prize of $15,000.

Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939 was the result of 10 years' research and has been described as "performing a miracle of synthesis", and as one of the "most engaging and important books on the Harlem Renaissance" in years.

The book had been shortlisted with two other books, both of which also had female authors, a fact that was commented upon in the judges citations.

"I'm honoured to win this award," Dr Corbould said. "It's a particular delight to have my work recognised in a general forum such as the Victorian Premier's Awards.

"The book was based on 10 years of research into the history of Harlem during the 1920s 'Jazz Age'. It shows how the grandchildren of America's slaves came to embrace both the American and African aspects of their culture and history. In doing so, they pioneered the kind of 'hyphenated' identities that later became the norm in a multicultural United States and, for that matter, in Australia.

"I hope to continue a strong tradition of Australians writing very fine studies of American history."

Becoming African Americans was also shortlisted for the NSW Premier's General History Prize in 2009 and, as runner-up for the W. K. Hancock Prize of the Australian Historical Association. It was also selected as an "Outstanding Academic Title" of 2009 by the American Library Association in the association's journal, CHOICE.

The judges of the prize commented that Dr Corbould's book presented an original argument about the ways in which the descendants of freed slaves in the US in the early years of the 20th century redefined their idenity in terms of their African heritage and history.

"Widely researched and engagingly written, Becoming African Americans is a multi-layered work, enriched by attention to gender dynamics, local politics and transnational history," the judges said.

"Dr Corbould's fresh and original approach to the formation of modern African American identity in the 1920s and 1930s, especially during the creative ferment of the Harlem Renaissance, renders their history not only 'closer to their hearts' desire but also closer to the facts."

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