The University Record, October 2, 2000

University Press Book Award

Ross Chambers

Ross Chambers

Ross Chambers, the Marvin Felheim Distinguished University Professor of French and Comparative Literature, offers an insightful analysis of the genre of the AIDS diary in his book Facing It, AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author, which has been selected to receive the 2000 University of Michigan Press Book Award. The book’s subtitle refers to a statement by Roland Barthes—“the death of the author marks the birth of the text.” In the AIDS genre, the truism takes on new meaning, Professor Chambers writes, because the authors of the AIDS diaries are writing about death while confronting their own immortality.

Professor Chambers, an authority on many 19th- and 20th-century French writers, as well as on a variety of approaches to literature, begins with the premise that writing a diary when a person has AIDS is an act of revolt—the author chooses to confront rather than succumb to the disease. For the audience, the reading of AIDS diaries is an act of mourning, Professor Chambers asserts. Through a detailed study of three AIDS diaries, originating in France, the United States and Australia, Professor Chambers demonstrates how issues concerning the politics of AIDS writing and the ethics of reading are linked by the common concern of survivorhood.

In Facing It, Professor Chambers asks what contributions literary criticism can make in an epidemic. He concludes that the rhetoric surrounding AIDS affects what we think, how we feel, what we do and who we are, and that criticism can extend the meanings in these diaries and help make them a continuing force of cultural survival.

Professor Chambers, who joined the University faculty as a professor of French in 1975, is the author of numerous articles and books, including Room for Maneuver: Reading (the) Oppositional (in) Narrative and Story and Situation: Narrative Seduction and the Power of Fiction. His writings, in English and in French, are praised for their clarity and thoroughness. Professor Chambers has served on the University of Michigan Press Executive Committee and the University’s Committee on Honorary Degrees, as well as on the editorial boards of the Australian Journal of French Studies, French Forum, Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature, European Romantic Review, and Narrative.

Professor Chambers also is widely recognized and respected for his commitment to teaching. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a member of the Academy of Literary Studies, he has received many honors, including the University’s Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award in 1992.

In recognition of his literary accomplishments, particularly Facing It, AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author; his scholarly contributions to our understanding of literature, including the AIDS genre; and his distinguished teaching and service, the University of Michigan is pleased to present to Ross Chambers the 2000 University of Michigan Press Book Award.