Indigenous literary studies scholar Isabella Huberman awarded the Polanyi Prize in literature

January 17, 2023 by Sean McNeely - A&S News

Isabella Huberman, an adjunct professor with the Faculty of Art & Science’s Department of French, has been awarded the prestigious Polanyi Prize in literature.

The Polanyi Prize is awarded each year to as many as five researchers from an Ontario university in the early stages of their career. The award is given by the Ontario Council of Universities and is named in honour of John Charles Polanyi, University Professor Emeritus in the Faculty’s Department of Chemistry and recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize. The award recognizes researchers in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and economic science. This year, all five prizes were awarded to faculty at the University of Toronto.

“I am thrilled to congratulate our Polanyi Prize winners,” says Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. “They exemplify the breadth of the scholarship and research in the Faculty — in this case, from the Milky Way Galaxy, to the literature and art of Indigenous writers and artists, to the relationship between health and economic inequality. It is also special because it recognizes individuals who are in the early stages of their careers, meaning we will be seeing exciting work from them for years to come. Congratulations to them all!”

Huberman’s research examines the literature and visual art of Indigenous writers and artists from Manitoba and Quebec who document, contest and reimagine the implications of resource extraction projects in general, and hydropower in particular.

Working across English-language and French-language Indigenous artistic and literary production, her work analyses archival documents, public art, literature and film to address how these creators call into question colonial perspectives on the benefits of hydro power and, in their place, put forward narratives that celebrate Indigenous kinship, lands and stories.

Her research presents a novel approach to Indigenous literary studies where Francophone and Anglophone research have traditionally operated in isolation. Huberman’s overarching goal is to contribute to a deeper understanding of Indigenous critiques of the inequities created by resource extraction in a settler colonial society and reveal how these creative works serve as starting points of conversation for a more just future.

“Winning this award means a lot to me,” says Huberman. “I feel very honoured to have my work recognized by an interdisciplinary committee of scholars, and more importantly, for the study of Indigenous literatures in French to gain this recognition and receive the attention this visionary body of literature deserves.

“The Polanyi award will allow me to continue to build relationships with writers and communities, as I work to expand how we do research as scholars of literature. The award will support my goal of producing research that can effect real change in Canada.”

“We are all extremely proud to see one of our alumni obtain such prestigious recognition as the Polanyi Prize in literature,” says Anne-Marie Brousseau, French chair.

“Isabella has developed a research program which is original, filling a wide gap. We need more of this kind of research which helps the voices of Indigenous writers and artists be heard and understood, if we are to seriously embrace the truth and reconciliation process. Congratulations, Isabella!”

Read about the other A&S Polanyi Prize Winners:

With files from the Council of Ontario Universities.