Professor Michele Elam Wins 2023 Foerster Prize

Michele Elam

We’re pleased to announce the winner of the 2023 Norman Foerster Prize, awarded to the best essay of the year in American Literature: “Poetry Will Not Optimize; or, What Is Literature to AI?” by Michele Elam, published in volume 95, issue 2. Read the essay, freely available through the end of April, here

The prize committee offered this praise for the winning essay: “Elam’s essay offers a sharp examination of what she terms the ‘algorithmic ahistoricity’ of emerging AI technologies, especially as they’re deployed in the process of aesthetic production. With examples such as a GPT-3 rewriting of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise!,” Elam shows with nuanced clarity how the decontextualized nature of the data used by AI tends to offer ‘form without meaning,’ or what she refers to as historical and cultural ‘mush.’ Yet this essay isn’t simply a polemic against AI. In a compelling coda, Elam shifts gears and points to the potential inherent in extended interactive engagement with AI. Describing a ‘generative’ process, she suggests that like all technologies, AI is ‘a crucible of our worldviews’ and has the ability to highlight our own sometimes static thinking and our necessarily limited view of the world. Elam’s essay offers a valuable and timely contribution to new and old questions in the humanities about the definition of art, its production, and its value.”