José David Saldívar honored with Hubbell Medal for lifetime achievement in American literary studies

José David Saldivar
José David Saldivar

JOSÉ DAVID SALDÍVAR, professor of comparative literature, received the 2016 Jay B. Hubbell Medal for lifetime achievement, given out by the American Literature Society to scholars of American literary studies.

The award was announced on Oct. 10 and will be presented to Saldívar at the 2017 Modern Language Association conference in January in Philadelphia. The award is given every year to a scholar whose lifetime of work has significantly advanced the study of American literature.

Saldívar, who has been teaching at Stanford since 2010, has studied and written books about literary culture in the Americas, concentrating on the U.S.-Mexico border studies. Some of his books include Trans-Americanity: Subaltern Modernities, Global Coloniality and the Cultures of Greater Mexico; Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies; The Dialectics of Our America; Genealogy, Cultural Critique and Literary History.

Saldívar, who earned  his master’s and doctorate degrees at Stanford, said he was finishing up a chapter of his forthcoming book about Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz, called Junot Díaz: A Portrait of the Afro-Latino Artist, when he got an email about the award.

“It was a complete surprise,” said Saldívar. “It’s a little bit daunting when the award is advertised as a lifetime achievement, given that I’m still teaching and working. But I am deeply touched and honored—and humbled–by this award.”

Being raised in a Texas town about 100 yards from the U.S.-Mexico border inspired Saldívar to study the literature created in the bilingual and transcultural environments in the Americas, he said.

But as an English undergraduate student at Yale, Saldívar said he remembers that it was rare to see a U.S. Latino writer or a writer from the Latin America on the syllabi of his courses.

“Growing up in a bilingual culture, it seemed odd that the writing that was coming from that area wasn’t being taught in my literature courses,” Saldívar said.

Saldívar’s colleagues and former students praised his achievements and influences on the study of American literature.

“His work has fundamentally changed the shape of the discipline, rejecting exceptionalist narratives and East-West mappings that were central to earlier moments of American Studies,” said Christopher Breu, Saldívar’s former student who is now a professor at Illinois State University. “What emerges from his work is a rethinking of the U.S. in relationship to its border with Mexico and its relationship to the global South more generally.”

Saldívar’s book Junot Díaz: A Portrait of the Afro-Latino Artist, which is scheduled to be published in 2017, explores Junot Díaz’s early life and his improbable, painstaking rise to a commanding place on the global literary scene.