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Prize-winning Dissertation Looks at Bilingual Writers

September 13, 2016

Eugenia Kelbert (PhD 2015, Comparative Literature) has received the American Comparative Literature Association’s 2016 Bernheimer Prize, awarded to an outstanding dissertation in the field. The American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) is the principal learned society in the United States for scholars whose work involves several literatures and cultures and cross-cultural literary study.

Kelbert’s dissertation, “Acquiring a Second Language Literature: Patterns in Translingual Writing from Modernism to the Moderns,” explores bilingualism from literary, psycholinguistic, and translation theory perspectives. She uses a digital humanities approach to textual analysis along with more traditional modes of critical reading. Focusing on poets and novelists such as Joseph Brodsky and Romain Gary, who preferred to work in languages they acquired as adults, Kelbert analyzes the cognitive processes of  “second literature acquisition” and identifies European modernism as the moment at which these processes attained a distinctive aesthetic. Haun Saussy (currently at the University of Chicago) and Vladimir Alexandrov were her advisers.

Born in Moscow, Kelbert moved to England as a child and earned her undergraduate degree in French and German from Oxford. She is fluent in four languages and, like the authors she studies, writes in her second language, English. She completed a master’s degree in translation theory jointly offered at the Ecole Supérieure d’Interpretes et de Traducteurs and the Sorbonne in Paris.

While at Yale, Kelbert won two Beinecke research fellowships and worked as a Writing Advisor and Fellow at the Graduate Writing Center (part of the Center for Teaching and Learning). In 2010, she created the online “Translingual Writing” forum that now brings together over 100 scholars worldwide. In 2011, she won the ACLA’s Horst Frenz Prize for Best Graduate Student Paper, for “Reborn as René: the Interplay of Self and Language in Rilke's Late French and German Poetry.” The citation called it “a brilliant study” that “juxtaposes Rilke’s French poems with his poems in German with the net effect of enriching and enhancing our understanding and appreciation of both.”

During her Yale years, Kelbert went to China with a Chinese Language and Culture Program Award and studied Chinese for a summer at Yale’s Summer Language Institute. She also made time for ballroom and Latin dancing and admits that she drank many, many cups of tea on the fourth floor of the CompLit department.