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Catherine Prendergast

Professor Emerita


Catherine Prendergast is Professor of English and an affiliate of the Russian, East-European, and Eurasian Center. In 2014, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to conduct research for The Gilded Edge, a work of narrative non-fiction (forthcoming from Dutton Books - a Penguin imprint, in October 2021). She has served as Director of First Year Writing, the largest instructional humanities program on the Urbana campus. She received her B.A. in English from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Madison. Professor Prendergast’s research fixes on historical moments when the value of a given cultural or literate activity becomes hotly contested terrain. She has written on battles over multicultural literacy in the wake of school desegregation, anxieties over the global spread of English, and continuing arguments over grammatical correctness.  A Fulbright-Hays Research Award to Slovakia supported the research for her book Buying into English: Language and Investment in the Capitalist New World (2008), a study of Slovak efforts to learn English after the Berlin Wall fell. Her first monograph, Literacy and Racial Justice: The Politics of Learning after Brown v. Board of Education (2003), examined the interplay of civil rights and literacy in twentieth-century America. Literacy and Racial Justice was awarded the Modern Language Association’s Mina P. Shaughnessy Award, the Conference on Composition and Communication’s Outstanding Book Award, the David R. Russell Award for Research in the Teaching of English from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Ross Winterowd Award from the Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition. She also writes widely in disability studies, particularly on the relationship between psychiatric disabilities and public writing. Her work in this area has been reprinted in the Disability Studies Reader, the foremost publication in the field.

Research Interests

  • Rhetoric
  • Writing Studies
  • Disability Studies
  • American History
  • Film/Visual Culture
  • Women's Lives


BA, Columbia University

PhD, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Awards and Honors

Residency at Noëpe Literacy Arts Center, May 2016

Guggenheim Fellow 2014

Center for Advanced Studies Fellow, University of Illinois, 2014

CCCC’s Certificate of Writing Program Excellence, 2012 (for innovations as Director of Undergraduate Rhetoric Program at the University of Illinois)

University Scholar (Three year appointment recognizing exceptional University of Illinois faculty, 2007-2010)

Library/Instructional Technology Grant: $338,000

(competitive internal award for building four flexible-use classrooms, recognized now as best practice for university classroom construction in current strategic plan)

David H. Russell Award, National Council of Teachers of English (for Literacy and Racial Justice)

CCCCs Outstanding Book Award (for Literacy and Racial Justice)

Mina P. Shaughnessy Award, Modern Language Association (for Literacy and Racial Justice)

W. Ross Winterowd Award, Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (for Literacy and Racial Justice)

Fulbright Research Grant, Slovak Republic, 2003: $14,000

List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students (numerous semesters)

Brown v. Board of Education Jubilee Commemoration Grant, competitive internal grant, University of Illinois, 2003: $18,000

Richard L. Braddock Award (for outstanding article in 1998 issue of College Composition and Communication)



Courses Taught

ENGL 380: Writing About Money. A course for aspiring freelance writers.

ENGL 373: Disability in Film

ENGL 274: Disability in Literature and Culture

ENGL 233: Advanced Composition

Additional Campus Affiliations

Russian East-European Eurasian Center

Recent Publications

My Father's Lost and Found Corpse, Human Parts, Medium (2019) 

Before #BlackLivesMatter. In Tammie Kennedy, Joyce Middleton, and Krista Radcliffe (Eds.) Rhetorics of Whiteness in a “Post-Racial” Era. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2016.

            Winner, CCCC Outstanding Book Award in the Edited Collection Category, 2018

Mental Disability and Rhetoricity Retold: The Memoir on Drugs. In David Bolt (Ed.) Changing Social Attitudes Toward Disability: Perspectives from Historical, Cultural, and Educational Studies. New York: Routledge, 2015: 60-68.

Or You Don’t: Talents, Tendencies, and the Pooka of Literacy. Enculturation. 2013.

Writing and Learning in View of the Lab: Why “They” Might be Right. Journal of Literacy in Composition Studies, 2013.