A Georgetown English professor received the 2008 Modern Language Association of America Prize for a First Book last month.

Dana Luciano, associate professor of English at Georgetown, won the MLA prize for her book, “Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America.”

Each year since 1993, the MLA presents the First Book prize to one member of the association in recognition of his or her first book-length publication. Luciano’s win was announced on Dec. 16, 2008 and came as a welcomed surprise to the professor.

“It was an honor even to be considered for the award; winning it was unexpected and wonderful,” Luciano said. “As a scholar working in sexuality studies, a long-marginalized field, having my book recognized by the MLA is especially gratifying, since it also indicates the profession’s respect for my field.”

According to Chester Gillis, Interim Dean of Georgetown College, the award represents a major academic accomplishment for Luciano and Georgetown.

“The MLA is one of the largest academic associations in the country, so by being selected, Professor Luciano and Georgetown receive considerable attention among scholars in the field,” Gillis said. “This is an award given by Professor Luciano’s peers and there is no higher honor than to be recognized by one’s peers.”

Luciano’s book delves into the history of sexuality with an emphasis on grief and mourning in 19th century America.

“Luciano’s `Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America’ is a demanding and inventive consideration of how grief was imagined and experienced and the purposes for which it could be deployed, in different mid 19th century cultural contexts,” the MLA Committee on Honors and Awards wrote of the book, as quoted in a university press release.

Despite the emphasis on 19th century culture, Luciano said she drew inspiration from her own life.

“My interest in the subject of grief comes not from the 19th century but from our own time; as a queer who came of age in the first decades of the AIDS epidemic, the question of extraordinary grief, and of grief denied public recognition, was a difficult one to turn away from,” Luciano said.

“Arranging Grief” has found favor among some of Luciano’s colleagues as well.

“[Professor] Luciano’s book represents the best of what interdisciplinary cultural studies scholarship can do … in addition to being beautifully, gracefully written,” Ricardo Ortiz, associate professor of English and director of graduate studies in English, said.

Jason Rosenblatt, department chair of English, sees the award and its recipient as an asset to the university as a whole.

“In Dana Luciano, [Georgetown University] is thrice blessed, because her teaching and her service to the English department and the university are as meritorious as her scholarship,” Rosenblatt said.

The MLA, which has more than 30,000 members in 100 countries, has awarded the MLA Prize for a First Book annually since 1993. Luciano received her prize during the annual MLA convention in San Francisco.

Luciano said she is currently working on several book projects including one on “queer spectrality” in 19th century fiction, poetry and photography and another on the politics of affect in contemporary queer film and video. According to a university press release, her previous articles have been published in GLQ, Arizona Quarterly and American Literature, among others. She also received an honorable mention in the Crompton-Noll Award competition for her article “Coming Around Again: The Queer Momentum of Far From Heaven.”

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