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CSU English Professor’s Book Wins 2010 International Prize
Public Relations

Posted By: Tiffany Jones
Published: December 22, 2010

BALTIMORE, MD -- (November 2010) – With her iconic African patterned head wrap and her heart warming smile she greets you. Her presence fills you with a nostalgic sense of wisdom coupled with a down-to-earth view of life. This description can only belong to the brilliant and original Dr. Kokahvah Zauditu-Selassie; a Coppin State University Associate Professor of English, has been awarded The 2010 Toni Morrison Society Book Prize for Best Single-Authored Book.

The prestigious international prize was presented to Dr. Kokahvah Zauditu-Selassie at The Toni Morrison Society’s Sixth Biennial Conference held in Paris, France Nov. 4-7, 2010.

The prize is given to the book that represents the best original scholarship solely on 1993 Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Dr. Zauditu-Selassie was presented two plaques during the conference’s Authors and Editors Luncheon.

Recalling her acceptance speech, Dr. Zauditu-Selassie said: “I thanked Ms. Morrison for providing the fertile prose that helped African people to see themselves in her narratives. I noted that her novels help us to challenge hegemony, racism, sexism, and all the isms that prevent us from liberating ourselves.”

“This award, inarguably, signals Dr. Zauditu-Selassie’s commitment to the highest levels of academic scholarship and the high regard with which The Morrison Society holds her and her work,” said Dr. Elaine Sykes, Interim Chairperson of Coppin’s Humanities Department. “We congratulate (her) and extend her our genuine hope that she will continue to enjoy this kind of recognition in the name of a writer the world may not understand fully, but fully knows it needs.”

Dr. Zauditu-Selassie’s 224-page book, African Spiritual Tradition in the Novels of Toni Morrison, was published by the University Press of Florida, (Gainesville, FL) March 1. 2009. She joined the Humanities Department faculty at Coppin in 2008.

Her book received critical and reviewer acclaim at the time of its release:

“No other work catalogues so thoroughly the grounding of Morrison’s work in African cosmogonies. Zauditu-Selassie’s many readings of Ba Konga and Yoruba spiritual presence in Morrison’s work are incomparably detailed …,” observed Keith Cartwright of the University of North Florida.

Declaring Dr. Zauditu-Selassie to be “…uniquely positioned” to write this book, Cartwright said, “… she is not only a literary critic but also a practicing Obatala priest in the Yoruba spiritual tradition and a Mama Nganga in the spiritual system. She analyzes tensions between communal and individual values and moral codes represented in Morrison’s novels.”

Recognition of book prize winners was one of eight major conference events. The prize is awarded every two years in two categories: the best single-authored book and the best edited book. The session attracted some 400 participants from the international community of Morrison scholars.

“Ms. Morrison is affable and approachable,” said Dr. Zauditu-Selassie, “Even though she is America’s only African American Nobel Laureate in Literature, she remains grounded in the African American idea of graciousness. When I thanked her in my acceptance speech, she yelled, ‘You are very welcome.’”

Dr. Zauditu-Selassie also presented a paper at the Paris conference. She joined The Toni Morrison Society in 1993 and has participated as a presenter at conferences held in Atlanta, Lorain, OH, (Morrison’s birthplace), Washington, DC (Howard University) and Charleston, SC.

A book signing session in Brooklyn, N.Y. in March will kick-off an anticipated series of “… book talks on Morrison’s works …”, and similar activities, said Dr. Zauditu-Selassie.

As a 2009-10 Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Zauditu-Selassie spent 10-months in West Africa where she taught and served as a thesis advisor for students at the University of Cocody-Abidjan and the University of Bouake. She taught African American literature, African American Critical Theory, African American Women Writers and a Toni Morrison Seminar.

During her 19-year career as a university professor, Dr. Zauditu-Selassie has been a National Endowment for the Humanities, a National Council for Black Studies Fellow at the University of Ghana, Legon; a Fulbright-Hays Fellow in Cairo, Egypt and in the Republic of South Africa, a New York University Scholar-in-Residence, and a UNCF Mellon Fellow at the Goree’ Institute in Dakar, Senegal.

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