Universität Heidelberg Presents James W.C. Pennington Award
27 May 2015
Photo: University Archive
Literary scholar Prof. William L. Andrews, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA) will receive the James W.C. Pennington Award of Heidelberg University on 9 June 2015. The prize pays tribute to the African-American churchman and former slave James W.C. Pennington. In 1849, Pennington received an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University. He was thus the first African American to receive this title from a European university. The price is awarded by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) and the Faculty of Theology. William L. Andrews is being honoured for his work on the emergence of African-American literature.
The James W.C. Pennington Award is given to scholars who have done distinguished work on the African-American experience in the Atlantic world. It encompasses a month-long research stay in Heidelberg. The Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation has funded the first Pennington Fellows. When the new award was inaugurated in 2011, US President Barack Obama sent official greetings to the HCA.
William L. Andrews, the E. Maynard Adams Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), joined the faculty of UNC in 1997, where he also earned his PhD. Before accepting the professorship at UNC, he taught at a number of universities in the USA and was also a visiting professor at the Justus Liebig University Gießen. His special area of interest is autobiographies, particularly research into African-American literature, literature of the American South and the contributions of both black and white authors on the emergence of American literature and its historical complexities. He is currently working on publishing a complete digital library of autobiographies and biographies of North American slaves and former slaves.
Born in 1809, Pennington escaped bondage at the age of eighteen. He learned to read and write and in 1834 was the first black man to attend classes at Yale University. In 1838 he was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian Church. At the 1849 World Peace Congress in Paris, Pennington was befriended by the Heidelberg scholar Friedrich Carové. Pennington so impressed Carové that in the same year he persuaded the Heidelberg Faculty of Theology to confer an honorary doctorate on the black minister.
At the award ceremony, Prof. Andrews will deliver the keynote speech, entitled “James W.C. Pennington and Mark Twain: Slavery and the Moral Conscience of American Literature”. The presentation will be held at the HCA and begins at 6.15 pm.