University of Exeter: University of Exeter lecturers win ASLE-UKI Book Prizes

Dr Evelyn O’Malley, Senior Lecturer in Drama, was awarded the Critical Prize for her Academic Monograph, Weathering Shakespeare and Dr Ben Smith from the English Department was awarded the Creative Prize for his debut novel, Doggerland.

The ASLE-UKI Book Prize, inaugurated in 2021, has two categories: Best Academic Monograph (Critical Prize) in ecocriticism and environmental humanities and Best Work of Creative Writing in any form or genre with an ecological theme.

The judges praised Dr O’Malley’s Weathering Shakespeare, published by Bloomsbury in 2020, for ‘advancing the provocative argument that much outdoor theatre enacts anthropocentricism in its blithe disregard for the non-human surroundings’.

Weathering Shakespeare reveals how new insights from the environmental humanities can transform our understanding of performance practice. It draws on audiences’ accounts of outdoor performances of Shakespeare’s plays and examines how performers and audiences respond to unpredictable natural environments.

Speaking on her achievement, Dr O’Malley said: “This is a wonderful honour and I am deeply grateful to the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (UK and Ireland) for their recognition. ASLE-UKI does excellent work to foster creative and intellectual community in the environmental humanities and ecocriticism, pursuing an ecologically progressive practice and politics. It is especially heartening to see the work of theatre makers and their audiences, whose environmentally-attuned energies fill the book, acknowledged.

“The question of how we weather – and how we perform our weathering as a lived experience – is at the heart of our cultural responses to the changing climate. Weathering Shakespeare enabled me to address this question in the context of historical and contemporary performances. I look forward to future scholarship and collaborations in this growing field. It was also great to see Ben’s novel celebrated for its creative environmental writing.”

Doggerland, set on an off-shore windfarm in the not-so-distant future, tells the story of a boy and an old man who live there and are responsible for keeping the windmills turning. The book, published in 2019 by 4th Estate portrays a tale of hope, nature, and survival.

The Judges described Ben’s debut novel as ‘remarkable’ and one they were impressed with. Ben was lauded for delicately handling the relationship between the boy and the old man in a manner that is termed “tense, teasing and unexpectedly tender.”

Dr Smith said: “I’m delighted to have won the ASLE-UKI creative book prize. ASLE is a very prestigious organization that leads the way in the study of literature and environmental issues. I’ve been attending their conferences since I was studying for my PhD and have always found them inspiring and supportive. The shortlist for this prize included so many amazing books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, so I feel very honoured that my novel was chosen.

“I was also very pleased to see that Evelyn won the prize for best academic monograph. This really shows the strength in this field here at Exeter.”

Professor Jo Gill, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of the College of Humanities, said: “I would like to congratulate Evelyn and Ben on this prestigious achievement which rightly recognises the high quality of their research and writing.”

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