Bruhm’s ‘Counterfeit Child’ takes Priestley Prize

Department of English and Writing Studies professor Steven Bruhm was recently awarded the F.E.L. Priestley Prize, which recognizes the best essay published in the journal English Studies in Canada, for his essay The Counterfeit Child, which appeared in the special issue of the journal, entitled Childhood and Its Discontents, in December 2012. The prize is presented annually by the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE).

The paper deals with the image of the child in horror films and literature, implicating the child as often a terrifying not-so-innocent figure in these works.

Priestley Prize committee members wrote the following:

With the lightest touch (“let me tell you about my kids”) but the most serious intentions, Steven Bruhm’s essay is a carefully argued exploration of the function of childhood as an ideologically loaded but ontologically “empty” concept. Moving easily between early 20th Century children’s literature and contemporary film, Bruhm pairs J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan with his memoir of his mother Margaret Ogilvie, and then with Jaume Collet-Serra’s film Orphan, to identify a broad creative investment in the semiotic emptiness of childhood.  To that most gothic of psychoanalytical questions, how do you kill the dead?, the essay offers as answer the counterfeit child, the figure against whom “we can safely direct our murderous impulses.”

The essay exemplifies ESC‘s generalist mandate, offering compelling and accessible scholarship that introduces readers to a vibrant area of literary studies while making an important contribution to its field. Impressive in its range and significant in its implications, Bruhm’s essay stood out as the best in a strong year for the journal. 

Western News reporter Adela Talbot spoke with Bruhm in November 2013 about the paper, and his work behind it.