May 26, 2017
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois Wesleyan University alumnus Eric Gardner ’89 has won the 2017 Research Society for American Periodicals Book Prize, recognizing the best scholarly book published in 2015-2016 on American periodicals.
Gardner's Black Print Unbound: The Christian Recorder, African American Literature, and Periodical Culture (Oxford University Press, 2015) is one of the first full-length studies of an early Black newspaper.
The prize committee said that Black Print Unbound offers “magisterial vision and imaginative force that will set new standards for periodical scholarship.” The prize was formally presented at the American Literature Association Annual Conference, held May 25-28 in Boston.
Drafted with the support of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Gardner's book shed new light on printed communication among African Americans during and immediately following the Civil War.
Black Print Unbound explores the development of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) newspaper, the Christian Recorder, the oldest black periodical of the United States dating to the pre-Civil War era. According to Gardner, the book “is the most detailed study of the subscribers—and likely readers—of an early Black publication ever shared.” Gardner particularly wanted to investigate the individual lives of those who subscribed to the publication, looking into their lives and what reading and subscribing to the Recorder might have meant, he said.
Gardner, a professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in Michigan, began his research as a result of teaching literature courses at SVSU that examined American literature from the 1800s as well as African-American writing.
To complete his research, Gardner tapped into connections with Illinois Wesleyan. Pamela Muirhead '68, an associate professor of English (now retired) at Illinois Wesleyan, and her husband Jack Muirhead '62 have been involved in the Bloomington-Normal Black History Collection Project and helped plan Presence, Pride & Passion, A History of African-Americans in McLean County, an exhibit at the McLean County Museum of History from 2006-08.
The book is a culmination of archival work following Gardner's award-winning Unexpected Places: Relocating Nineteenth-Century African American Literature (University Press of Mississippi, 2009).
Gardner graduated from Illinois Wesleyan with a major in English. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and has been a member of the SVSU English faculty since 1996. See his Amazon author's page.