"The Little White Rose of Scotland" USM Professor Honored for

USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
Lynn Kuzma, Ph.D., Dean
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March 17, 2014
Contact: Jeanne Curran, (207) 780-4198 or [email protected]
With one (1) .jpg linked here:
Caption: Nancy K. Gish, University of Southern Maine professor of English, holds a copy
of her book about Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. She will be honored next month in
Scotland for her contributions to Scottish literature (University of Southern Maine
“The Little White Rose of Scotland”: USM Professor
Honored for Work in Scottish Literature
PORTLAND, Maine – Hugh MacDiarmid, the 20th-century Scottish poet, once wrote of
his love for his homeland: “The rose of all the world is not for me. /I want for my part/
Only the little white rose of Scotland /That smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the
A University of Southern Maine (USM) professor of English who specializes in Scottish
poetry, and particularly that of MacDiarmid, discovered that same love for Scotland a
number of years ago. She will be honored next month for her research and
scholarship in Scottish literature by one of the top literary organizations in that
Nancy K. Gish, who has been teaching at USM since 1980 and also is founding director
of the USM Women and Gender Studies Program, will travel to Edinburgh to be
confirmed during a reception as an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Scottish
Literary Studies (ASLS). Gish is a faculty member in the USM Department of English,
College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
Announcing the award in an acknowledgement letter to Gish, the ASLS Council
members “expressed their recognition and admiration of the valued and major
contribution which you have made to the support and enrichment of the tradition of
Scottish literature.”
Gish called the award “an enormous honor” and “a recognition of a life of work that
started in 1975.”
“I was absolutely stunned and thrilled, and I’m still full of myself over it and very
excited about going to Edinburgh,” she said recently. “When I looked at the letter, I
couldn’t believe who had sent it.”
“Professor Gish is an exemplary scholar and teacher and well deserving of this
award,” said Lynn Kuzma, dean of USM’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social
Sciences. “She not only distinguishes herself, but also our college and university. We
are very proud of her.”
Founded in 1970, the ASLS is an independent educational charity, similar to the
Modern Language Association of America (MLA) that aims to promote the study,
teaching, and writing of Scottish literature. In 2010, for its 40th anniversary, the
organization members decided to confer honorary fellowships on a select group of
distinguished contributors to the field of study, but later realized there were more
who should be honored.
It was decided to confer the award on 100 contributors over the first three years and
then add a few each year. Gish, who received her doctorate of philosophy in English
from the University of Michigan, has been named as one of those honorees, who
include such notables as the late Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and playwright and 1995
Nobel Prize winner in literature.
Gish pointed out that there are very few scholars in the U.S. who study Scottish
modernism or Scottish literature, with some exceptions for such writers as Robert
Burns and Sir Walter Scott. She said the country “is a distinct, fascinating,
extraordinary culture and not simply part of a generalized ‘Britain.’”
“Scottish literature has largely been ignored by Anglo-American critics,” Gish noted.
“There are quite a few reasons for this,” including the dominance of English culture,
economics, language and literature.
The professor first started doing Scottish studies in 1977 after receiving a copy of
MacDiarmid’s poetry. Comparing it to the work of American poet Emily Dickinson,
Gish said, “I started reading it, and it was brilliant. I thought, ‘I’m supposed to be a
specialist in modern literature, and I’ve never read it.’ … I felt as if my head was
coming off.”
In 1979, she received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to do research
for a book on the poet, “Hugh MacDiarmid: The Man and His Work,” published by
Macmillan in 1984, followed in 1992 by another book, “Hugh MacDiarmid: Man and
In 1977, Gish went to Scotland and met MacDiarmid, visiting him in his home and
interviewing him for about an hour and a half. She also got to “interview everyone I
could find who had known him,” she said, including relatives and colleagues, including
Heaney on MacDiarmid’s influence on Irish literature. MacDiarmid, who died a year
later, actually wrote two letters giving Gish permission to copy his literary materials
for her work.
“I still have the letters he wrote to me personally,” Gish said, adding that she hoped
some day to preserve them in a permanent collection.
That trip led to more books, a critical monograph and an edited collection of criticism
and numerous articles. Fascinated by Scottish literature, Gish has continued to write
about not only MacDiarmid, but also contemporary Scottish women poets, such as Liz
Lochhead and Jackie Kay, the latter whom Gish brought to USM as a visiting faculty
Gish’s current scholarly work focuses primarily on the effect of World War I on
English, Welsh and Scottish poetry, and she now is teaching a course at USM on that
topic. She also is an authority on modernism and in particular, T.S. Eliot. She has
published three books on Eliot, as well as numerous articles, and has made a number
of scholarly presentations about him in the U.S. and Europe.
The USM professor said that studying Scottish literature “has made my life far richer
and wonderful.” The ASLS award, Gish said, is “an affirmation of a lifetime of bringing
international ideas and understanding to students at USM … my students deserve to
have a window into the world.”
For more information about the USM Department of English, go to
For more information about the USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences,
go to http://usm.maine.edu/cahs
For more information about USM’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, go
to http://usm.maine.edu/cahs
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USM Office of Public Affairs
[email protected]
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