On April 2, James P. Bednarz, a professor of English, received the 2014 Abraham Krasnoff Memorial Award for Single Scholarly Achievement for his book entitled, “Shakespeare and the Truth of Love: The Mystery of The Phoenix and Turtle.” The Krasnoff award is one of the highest honors a Long Island University faculty member can receive.
“Professor Bednarz’s book, a ground-breaking interpretation of [William] Shakespeare’s most beautiful, difficult, and neglected masterpiece “The Phoenix and Turtle,” is a tour-de-force in interdisciplinary scholarship that uses a single literary artifact to reflect the political, social, and literary dynamics of Shakespeare’s life, work, and culture in a single year –1601—in early modern England,” John Lutz, professor of English and chair of the English department, wrote in his nomination letter to the Abraham Krasnoff Memorial Award Committee.
Bednarz, while humbled by receiving the Krasnoff honor, isn’t a stranger to receiving scholarly achievements and awards in his collegiate and professional career. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Columbia College, and then received an M.A. with honors and a Ph.D. with a distinction from the Columbia graduate school of Arts and Sciences.
Bednarz also served as a member of the advisory committee for the Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA), the principal professional association in the United States for scholars of language and literature where he served as a specialist on Shakespearian literature. In addition to the Krasnoff award, Bednarz has also received the Trustees’ Award for Excellence in Scholarship in 2003, and the David Newton Award for Excellence in teaching from LIU in 1991.
“After receiving the award, you can’t help but feel grateful,” said Bednarz. “I don’t want to undermine that at all, but the most important thing is the work. If the work is satisfying on its own level, then you’re very lucky. When students go to school, it’s not about the degree, although that marks what they’ve achieved; it’s about what you’ve actually learned and what you bring away [from it that] changes you.”
Perhaps the milestone that “changed” Bednarz was the discovery of William Shakespeare, the author of the enigmatic play entitled, “The Phoenix and Turtle,” that inspired Bednarz to write his now award-winning book. Bednarz became enthralled with Shakespeare’s writing during college, and was mesmerized by the incredible language, deep characterization, and the various plights of the human condition Shakespeare incorporated into his work.
“Once in a while, you come across a writer that just kind of speaks to you in a direct way,” Bednarz said. “To quote John Dryden, ‘He was the man who of all modern and perhaps ancient poets had the largest and most comprehensive soul.’ His work was just so satisfying on every level, and the fact that there was just so much of it made it even better because it can’t be exhausted.”
It’s interesting to him now that at one point in his life he didn’t understand the potency of Shakespearian literature and other people’s obsession it. When his junior high school English teacher told him that she knew of someone that was obsessed with William Shakespeare, he thought it was odd that a single author could exercise an all-consuming effect on someone’s psyche. Now, a published author and specialist on Shakespearian writing, he couldn’t imagine his life without Shakespeare’s presence.
Before joining LIU in 1991, Bednarz was an adjunct associate professor of English at Columbia University and a lecturer at NYU School of Continuing Education. “Ever since being a junior in high school, I knew that I wanted to teach [in] college,” said Bednarz. “I didn’t even know why, but I knew that it would be kind of amazing to devote one’s self to figure out what life is about. When I came to LIU, I never looked for another job because I just loved it here. The people are just so great, and the students are just so wonderful, polite, and engaging,”
For the future, Bednarz plans to continue to live in New York City with his wife, a writer about art, and to keep teaching and writing. “I love teaching, and I think if I didn’t teach then I would miss writing,” said Bednarz. “They go together hand in glove. I think to be a good teacher you should be a good researcher; the more you know the better. I couldn’t ever imagine them being separate. It’s that give and take that makes it so amazing.”
“If anyone were to win this award, it should be Professor Bednarz,” said Danielle Sposato, a sophomore English Literature major “Honestly, I wish I had the privilege to hand him the award.”
“I’m really happy for him. I think he’s so passionate about his work. You can tell that he loves what he’s teaching, and he brings that vitality into his voice and his work,” said Amanda Dollé, a junior Vocal Performance major.
Bednarz advises students to follow their passion, as he did. “I think that if students find something that matters to them, [they should] stick with it, not be diverted, and build on those skills. Find out the skills that you have and find out how they’re matched to something you could really put your heart into. If you can succeed in that, your life will be the for the most part enjoyable,” said Bednarz.