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UK English Professor’s ‘Aesthetic Cold War’ Wins 2023 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize

By Richard LeComte 

LEXINGTON, Ky. — “The Aesthetic Cold War,” a book by the University of Kentucky’s Peter Kalliney, has won the 2023 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize. Kalliney is the William J. and Nina B. Tuggle Chair in English in UK’s College of Arts and Sciences. 

Each year, a panel of Modernist Studies Association judges awards the prize to a book that has made the most significant contribution to modernist studies. 

“’The Aesthetic Cold War’ is a major revision of our picture of Cold War aesthetics and politics, giving us a far more complex picture of old narratives of cultural co-option during literary decolonization,” the panel stated. “Kalliney’s is the new standard work on the relation of decolonial-era writers to Soviet realism, CIA funding, and cold war politics.” 

 In the book, published by Princeton University Press in 2022, Kalliney explores the ways rival postwar states used cultural diplomacy and the political police to influence writers. In response, many writers from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, including Chinua Achebe, Mulk Raj Anand, Eileen Chang, C.L.R. James, Alex La Guma, Doris Lessing, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Wole Soyinka, carved out a space of aesthetic nonalignment, imagining a different and freer future for their work.  

He argues that decolonial and postcolonial-era writers, rather than followers either of socialist realism or CIA-backed “cultural freedom,” were "canny operators" who played one side of the Cold War against the other.