Penn State 2021-22 Laureate receives Jamaica's prestigious Musgrave Medal

August 13, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — 2021-22 Penn State Laureate Shara McCallum, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, has been awarded the prestigious silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica.

McCallum Penn State Laureate

Shara McCallum, Edwin Erle Sparks professor of English and 2021-22 Penn State Laureate.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Shara McCallum

The Musgrave Medal, akin to the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom, honors Jamaican individuals for demonstrated excellence in their respective fields of literature, arts and science. Established in 1889, it is the oldest award of its kind to be bestowed in the Western Hemisphere.

According to a release from the Institute of Jamaica announcing the 2021 Musgrave Medal awardees, McCallum was selected for “extensive high-quality work in relation to her numerous collections and accolades, as well as being a nurturer of Jamaican talent.”

Originally from Jamaica, McCallum has authored six books and has had poems and essays published in journals, anthologies and textbooks throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and Israel. In addition to the Musgrave Medal, she has received the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for her book, “Madwoman"; a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress; a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Oran Robert Perry Burke Award for Nonfiction; and the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for her first book, “The Water Between Us.”

McCallum’s latest book, “No Ruined Stone” — released in the U.K. by Peepal Tree Press in July and in the U.S. by Alice James Books on Aug. 10 — is a novel-in-verse that offers a speculative account of history based on a thread from the life of well-known Scottish poet Robert Burns. In 1786, as Burns’ first book was nearing publication, he arranged to migrate to Jamaica to work on a slave plantation as a “bookkeeper” – a job that would have seen him overseeing the work of enslaved Africans. However, largely due to the huge success of his book of poems published that same year, Burns abandoned his plan to migrate.

Voiced primarily by a fictive Burns in Jamaica and his fictional granddaughter, a 19th-century woman born into slavery in Jamaica who migrates to Scotland and passes for white, “No Ruined Stone” takes on the question “What would have happened had Burns gone?” while exploring the historical relationship between Scotland and Jamaica.

“It is a question not only for history but for our present moment: How, as individuals and nations, do we hold the ideals we profess yet take actions that fall short of our beliefs?” McCallum said. “Writing ‘No Ruined Stone’ gave me the opportunity to explore again this and other questions involving personal and collective accounts of history, for which we don’t have easy answers.”

As the 2021-22 Penn State Laureate, McCallum will read from “No Ruined Stone” and her other works, offer writing workshops and introduce other poets to members of the Penn State community and Pennsylvania residents throughout the academic year. Additional information can be found on the Penn State Laureate webpage.

  • No Ruined Stone Shara McCallum

    "No Ruined Stone" (Alice James Books, 2021), the latest book by poet and 2021-22 Penn State Laureate Shara McCallum.

    IMAGE: Alice James Books

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 13, 2021