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John Sanford, News Service (650) 736-2151; e-mail:

Stanford literature professor to serve as a top official of Modern Language Association

Mary Pratt, a Stanford professor of Latin American and comparative literature, has been elected second vice president of the Modern Language Association, a position that will lead her to the presidency in two years.

"I'm honored to have been elected and feel a lot of responsibility to the membership," said Pratt, a longtime member of the association, commonly known as the MLA.

With more than 30,000 members, the MLA is the chief professional organization for scholars of languages and literatures. Among its many regular activities, the MLA holds an annual convention in December that serves as one of the biggest job markets for specialists in these fields. It also publishes the MLA International Bibliography, the only comprehensive bibliography in language and literature.

In addition, the association is a national leader in education and a major player in influencing how colleges, universities and other institutions conduct themselves toward employees in the literary and language fields.

"The MLA acts as an advocate for people in the profession," Pratt said.

As an official of the organization, Pratt, 52, will have the opportunity to shape the dialogue on issues affecting the academy. And she has several such issues she is eager to address, such as the lack of preparation of many universities for the "echo baby-boom," which is forecast to result in many more college applicants in the coming years.

"There's a huge increase in students coming into universities, and many universities, especially state institutions, are not preparing for that bulge in any systematic way," she said. "One of the things we need to do is make sure that universities respond to this increase."

Also, Pratt said she especially is interested in the public discourse concerning language and multilingualism in the United States.

"The whole political process that's been happening around bilingual education has shown us that there's very inadequate public understanding of the language issues and opportunities we're facing," she said.

She points to the discrepancy of recent efforts around the nation to end bilingual education while, at the same time, public services indeed, life in general have become increasingly multilingual.

"The U.S. traditionally has had a strongly monolingual idea of itself, but I think we need to revise that conception. And I think that kind of attitude change is possible now," Pratt said.

Herbert S. Lindenberger, the Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities at Stanford and a former president of the MLA, said he was "delighted to have another Stanford person in this job."

"I think she's a great teacher and a very distinguished scholar, and I think she will bring a lot of prestige to the job," Lindenberger said. "I'm not at all surprised that she was elected."

Officers in the association often must act as defenders of literary and linguistic study -- and of the humanities in general -- and Pratt "is certainly qualified" for this task, Lindenberger said.

"She will be unremitting in her defense of the humanities," he added. "There are a lot of people who need to educated about the value of what we do, and I think she's very good at that. She never shies away from conflict."

Pratt is spending this academic year as a fellow at Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences a luxurious opportunity, she says, for working on two book projects.

"It's like a gift that comes to you from the gods," she said.

One book-in-progress focuses on the legacy of colonial structures in the self-conception of the Americas. She is writing the other book, In This Together, with Renato Rosaldo Jr., the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences. The book will focus on key concepts in the discussion of multiculturalism.

Pratt earned her doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford in 1975 and is now the Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities. She has traveled in and written extensively about the Americas. She twice has won a Stanford Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching and, from 1993 to 1996, held the Bing Fellowship for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities and Sciences. Among many other honors, Pratt has been a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, and has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and a course-development grant as well as an independent-research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Between 1995 and 1998, Pratt served as chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; between 1988 and 1991, she was chair of the university's Modern Thought and Literature Program.

Pratt has written or co-authored four books, including Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992) and Linguistics for Students of Literature (1980), as well as dozens of articles on subjects ranging from literary theory to gender issues in the Americas.


By John Sanford

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