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Faculty studies in performance and race take top book prizes

The Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) has announced its annual awards to educators advancing the knowledge of theatre and performance-related disciplines—and two top book prizes have been bestowed on School of Communication faculty members. The awards will be handed out at a ceremony at the annual ATHE conference in Scottsdale, Arizona July 24.

The ATHE Outstanding Book Award will go to Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson, assistant professor of performance studies, for his book, A Race So Different: Performances in Law in Asian America (New York University Press, 2013).

The ATHE Excellence in Editing Award will go to Harvey Young, associate professor of theatre, performance studies and radio/television/film, for his work editing The Cambridge Companion to African American Theatre (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Chambers-Letson’s book takes a broad view of performance—from artistic works like Madame Butterfly to Supreme Court oral arguments in deportation cases—to look at how law influences Asian American racial formation. “[This book] was written for all of us who are struggling to make this world better because we cannot abide the insufficiencies of the here and now,” Chambers-Letson said in a recent online interview. “And it was written for those of us who still believe that aesthetics will play an important role in this coming transformation of our conditions of existence, as they always played a role in revolution and transformation throughout all history.”

Young’s book provides a comprehensive overview of African American theatre, from the early nineteenth century to the present day. Essays by leading scholars chronicle the evolution of African American theatre and its engagement with the wider community, including discussions of slave rebellions on the national stage, African Americans on Broadway, the Harlem Renaissance, African American women dramatists, and the ‘New Negro’ and ‘Black Arts’ movements. “This award acknowledges the labor of an editor: brainstorming a project, recruiting contributors, and working with them to make sure that their words and writing styles blend together,” Young said. “To have these efforts placed in a spotlight and recognized with an award as the ‘best’ is a great honor.”

Chambers-Letson said his award, too, was an honor—and not just for himself. “This book began as a dissertation under the guidance of my friend and mentor, José Esteban Muñoz,” he said. Though a leader in the fields of performance studies, queer theory, and critical race studies, Muñoz’s work was never honored with an award. He died the day after the A Race So Different was released. “This has made the project very bittersweet for me,” Chambers-Letson said. “To win this award is deeply meaningful, then, not just because of what it means with regards to my own work, but because I see it as recognition of José’s legacy and the continued impact that he has on the field of performance studies.”