Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2022 Citation Recipient

Aleksandra Kremer

The Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies (formerly the Orbis Book Prize), established in 1996 and sponsored by the Kulczycki family, former owners of the Orbis Books Ltd. of London, England, is awarded annually for the best book in any discipline, on any aspect of Polish affairs, published in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Aleksandra Kremer

Title: The Sound of Modern Polish Poetry: Performance and Recording after World War II (Harvard University Press)

In The Sound of Modern Polish Poetry: Performance and Recording after World War II, Aleksandra Kremer accomplishes a portrait of postwar Polish poetry, the likes of which we have never seen or heard before. Using recordings of readings produced without any intention of broader distribution, Kremer reconstructs not only the soundscape of the Polish lyric but also its social networks and adaptation to technology. What emerges from her treatment of Miłosz, Szymborska, Różewicz, and others is a three-dimensional portrait of language as it fills a room, moves and energizes a public, creates communities of listeners, and shapes texts that are more familiar to us in their page-bound form. Written in a fluid, accessible style that belies the complexity of her source materials, Kremer’s presentation is as clear and persuasive as her research is deep, welcoming the specialist and non-specialist alike. Using voiceprints to visualize the intonation of sound recordings, Kremer makes legible a form of media interaction that, in our rapidly changing media landscape, is quickly becoming illegible to many audiences, even as it has been largely ignored by scholars till now. Here, poetry that has been the subject of extensive critical attention is cast in an entirely new light.

Honorable Mention: Kenneth B. Moss

Title: An Unchosen People: Jewish Political Reckoning in Interwar Poland (Harvard University Press)

Kenneth Moss’s Unchosen People masterfully revises a history of Jewish predicament in interwar Poland. By bringing to life the voices of Jewish journalists, sociologists, and politically active youth, it presents how people cast as an ethnic minority critically assessed their status and life opportunities in an era of majoritarian nationalism and fascism. Moss brilliantly demonstrates that Jewish popular political thinking shifted from progressivism toward skepticism already in the late 1920s and early 1930s, well before Piłsudski’s death. In the moment of overlapping political, constitutional, and economic crises, the enchantment with ideas and ideologies of the late nineteenth century gave way to thinking in terms of risk assessment, individual survival, and fundamental doubts about the viability of Jewish life in the Polish nation-state. Based on Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish sources, this reading convincingly reframes both the chronology of modern Jewish politics and the history of post-Versailles Eastern European nation-statehood. Even more broadly, Moss models how to write historically about futurelessness and minorityhood. Unchosen People offers a captivating and highly appealing history of the present by showing how people who lived on the edge of a catastrophe wondered fearfully about what the future held, questions that remain hauntingly relevant for our current global moment.