German and Comparative Literature professor wins Germany's prestigious Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award

February 13, 2018 by Alexa Zulak - A&S News

John Zilcosky of the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures and the Centre for Comparative Literature has been awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award. This award recognizes the outstanding research achievements of international scientists and scholars across multiple disciplines and their exceptional promise for future work.

“Winning the Bessel Prize was wonderfully exciting for me,” said Zilcosky. “I was nominated not based on any particular book or article, but on my life’s work. It’s something I never expected to win.”

As one of just 20 Bessel award winners – and only two Canadians – this year, Zilcosky will spend the next several months conducting research at Berlin’s Center for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL)  – one of the world’s premier literary and cultural institutes.

Working alongside his Bessel Award nominator, ZfL professor Stefan Willer, and other German colleagues, Zilcosky will explore his areas of interest in modern literature and culture, including the connections between psychoanalysis and storytelling, representations of trauma in the modern world, and the culture of sports. He will also deliver guest lectures at the ZfL and other universities in Germany.

For Zilcosky, the Bessel Award has special meaning for someone who has spent his life studying and writing about German literature and culture.

“It’s satisfying to be honoured by a major research branch of the German government,” said Zilcosky. “It shows me that my perspective on German culture, as an outsider, a Canadian, has touched on something important: that my vision of Germany from far away sheds light on something ‘they’ might not have otherwise seen.”

This award follows a number of previous accolades for Zilcosky including a Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship, two Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Grants, the Modern Language Association’s Scaglione Book Prize (for his Kafka’s Travels), and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. He is also the Honorary President of the International Comparative Literature Association’s Research Committee on Literary Theory and sits on the editorial boards for Continuum Press’ New Directions in German Studies series and Legenda Books’ Germanic Literatures series, as well as on the advisory board of the Oxford Kafka Research Centre at the University of Oxford.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is a research branch of the German government, with funding from the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Humboldt Foundation’s alumni network includes more than 28,000 prizewinners and fellows, as well as 55 Nobel Prize winners.