University of Pittsburgh
December 19, 2001

Pitt English Professor Michael West Named Winner of Phi Beta Kappa's Prestigious 2001 Christian Gauss Award

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PITTSBURGH—Michael West, professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2001 Christian Gauss Award from Phi Beta Kappa (PBK), the nation's oldest academic honor society, for his book "Transcendental Wordplay: America's Romantic Punsters and the Search for the Language of Nature," published last year by Ohio University Press. West received the honor, which carries a $2,500 prize, during a ceremony in Williamsburg, Va., Dec. 7.

In its announcement, PBK said: "West's 'Transcendental Wordplay' examines

19th century American attitudes toward language—the making of a new language inherited from English. The judges noted that West regards the 'revolution' of transcendentalism as essentially philological, and tries to determine where and how Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson, Melville and others got their proclivity for extravagant puns, riddles, acrostics, anagrams and other forms of word play. West's early essays on Thoreau have been important to scholars of mid 19th century American literature, and the judges considered 'Transcendental Wordplay'—which revises and amplifies those and other essays—a classic."

PBK has given three book awards annually since the 1950s for outstanding nonfiction books published in the United States in the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and mathematics. The other two PBK book awards are the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, presented this year to Debora Silverman, University of California President's Chair in Modern European History, Art, and Culture at UCLA, for "Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art," published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, given this year to Richard B. Alley, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, for "Two- Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future," published by Princeton University Press.

Panels of scholars selected the three 2001 Book Award recipients from more than 100 entries submitted by publishing companies and university presses throughout the United States.

PBK sponsors the book awards and several other programs to honor and encourage scholarship and scholarly writing in the U. S. Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary