Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professor and Shakespeare Scholar Wins 2023 Juniper Prize
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) English professor and celebrated Shakespeare scholar Michelle Ephraim has been awarded the 2023 Juniper Prize for Creative Nonfiction for GREEN WORLD: A Tragicomic Memoir of Love and Shakespeare. Awarded annually by the University of Massachusetts Press, the Juniper Literary Prizes are highly competitive and a highly regarded showcase of distinctive and fresh voices who share their work with a wide array of readers.
“GREEN WORLD is so personal to me, and also my first book-length work in this genre,” says Ephraim, “I am thrilled it resonated with the judges.”
Drawing on her vast knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and work, GREEN WORLD (a term literary critics use to describe an idyllic place where Shakespeare’s heroines flee to escape their traumatic family homes) is a story of how, in Ephraim's quest to become a Shakespeare professor, the boundaries between her life and those of Shakespeare’s characters seemed to vanish. The memoir unfolds as a sort of literary detective drama; its five-act structure creates a story within a story, in which Ephraim's life uncannily starts to mirror that of the fictional Jewish daughter in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice.
The idea for GREEN WORLD began with an essay Ephraim wrote for The Washington Post about how only after her own father died could she appreciate Shakespeare’s ability to capture the timeless shock of losing a parent. The essay, “Father’s Day with Shakespeare,” drew an overwhelming response and was reprinted in newspapers all over the world.
Ephraim says, “I received hundreds of personal emails. From teachers and professors. Writers and theater geeks. From casual Shakespeare fans who had read a play or two in school, seen a performance, or had a favorite play or character. Even from people who described themselves as having little to no familiarity with Shakespeare but who loved how my story made Shakespeare accessible by connecting his work to a universal human experience: grief.”
“We are so fortunate to have Professor Ephraim at WPI. Her ability to resonate with her readers is the same way she connects with her students,” said Jean King, WPI Peterson Family Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “She exemplifies the vision to inspire our community members to be creators, scholars, and responsible global citizens.”
As a Juniper Prize awardee, Ephraim will receive an honorarium of $1,000 and a publication contract with the University of Massachusetts Press. GREEN WORLD: A Tragicomic Memoir of Love and Shakespeare will be published in the spring 2024.
Ephraim is also co-author of Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas, which she wrote with Caroline Bicks, the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature at the University of Maine. The two recently launched a podcast, Everyday Shakespeare.