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Sadowski-Smith’s 'Border Fictions' receives top book award

September 21, 2009

Humanities institute fetes ASU faculty authors at reception

Associate professor of English Claudia Sadowski-Smith is this year's recipient of the ASU Institute for Humanities Research Transdisciplinary Book Award. Every other year, the award is limited to Arizona State University authors. Sadowski-Smith's book, "Border Fictions: Globalization, Empire and Writing at the Boundaries of the United States," merges analysis of mostly contemporary fiction about the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, with approaches from geographical, political science and anthropological standpoints.

"Ever since I read and have really gotten to know this book, I find myself quoting from it or referring to it all the time," says professor Sally Kitch, director of the Institute for Humanities Research at ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"There are numerous examples in the book of how literature reveals interrelationships of immigrants — Asians and Hispanics, for example, living in the barrios of Los Angeles — in ways the statistical analysis of our immigration practices and patterns do not," says Kitch. "Literature is a useful tool to understanding the reality on the ground, the social reality that polarized debates about discreet immigrant groups pitted against ‘real Americans' miss completely. This is something that made her book a prize winner."

Sadowski-Smith will discuss her book and research at the Institute for Humanities Research book award lecture and annual humanities faculty authors reception Sept. 30 in the Memorial Union Alumni Lounge on ASU's Tempe campus. The event is scheduled from 4-5:30 p.m., and will recognize the publications of more than 60 faculty members.

"Because of the quality of submissions, a new category of honorable mentions was created this year to recognize two additional books that made significant contributions to transdisciplinary humanities scholarship," Kitch adds.

Receiving honorable mentions are Bambi Haggins, an associate professor of film and media studies, for her book "Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America," and David Hawkes, a professor of English, for his book "The Faust Myth: Religion and the Rise of Representation."

Transcending borders

Sadowski-Smith's interest in borderlands literature stems from living in American border towns of the Southwest and the Northeast in the 1990s, which are populated with citizens who are not used to thinking about themselves as border residents.

"I lived in Tucson in the 1990s and I found it fascinating that few people in academia were thinking about dramatic changes the border was undergoing then," she says.

She noticed that around the same time, other borders were disappearing, in context with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 — a sign of an increasingly globalized world community. Yet, in the United States, borders were only becoming more defined.

"Border Fictions" is an exploration of these changes and the ways in which fiction has reacted to them.

The book offers close readings of borderlands literature written by authors of varied ethnic and national background, including Carlos Fuentes, Leslie Marmon Silko, Karen Tei Yamashita and Alberto Ríos, while contextualizing the literature within scholarship of other disciplines. The fictions do not merely reflect their culture, but rather "engage with what is happening around them," Sadowski-Smith says. "New genres have been created in order to look at the complexity of the changes occurring along borders in the contemporary context."

In her book, Sadowski-Smith joins literary analysis with history, geography, political science and anthropology to create a work of transdisciplinary significance.

"Border Fictions" distinguishes itself by "placing into dialogue a wider variety of hemispheric perspectives from Chicana/o, Asian American, Latin American and Canadian studies," according to the author. She hopes to promote awareness through her work of the ways in which fiction imagines alternative histories and futures to myriad issues offered by border life, especially to the complexity of immigration.

"A point that Claudia makes in her book is that our American cities are all borderlands," Kitch says.

ASU's Institute for Humanities Research seeks to promote with the award and faculty authors reception "scholarship that reaches out in new directions," Kitch says. "Our mission is to encourage transdisciplinary humanities-based, but socially engaged research."

"This is our second year — the first was dedicated to ASU authors — and we've had wonderful nominations in both years," she adds.

At the faculty authors reception, books by more than 60 ASU tenured or tenure-track full-time faculty members from across ASU campuses will be on display. "It is an astonishing array," Kitch says, noting the authors come from the humanities, social sciences and art.

"For the first time we are featuring journals that are published in the humanities here at ASU and will include some of the publications by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies," she says.

Next year's award is open to works written or co-written by scholars from around the U.S. Publications may be nominated by colleagues, publishers or the authors themselves. The works are judged by the Institute for Humanities Research advisory board. Additional information is available at or (480) 965-3000.


Written by Danielle Kuffler ( for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Carol Hughes,