Two students win 2009 Baptista Essay Prize

Two students have won the 2009 Michael Baptista Essay Prize for outstanding scholarly papers on Latin American and Caribbean topics.

Emmanuelle Fick (BA Spec. Hons. ’09), now a graduate student in English, won in the undergraduate category for an analysis of an Aimé Césaire play about the Haitian revolution. Laurence Robitaille, a graduate student in communications & culture, won in the graduate-level category for her cultural analysis of capoeira, the Brazilian dance and martial art.

York faculty members nominated the essays, and two committees of the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) evaluated them.

Left: Sharon Baptista (right) with prize winners Emmanuelle Fick (far left) and Laurence Robitaille

Evaluators said Fick’s paper, “The Body, the Stage, and the Theory: Unpacking the Body in Aimé Césaire’s The Tragedy of King Christophe”, demonstrated a “keen understanding of the relationship between performance and memory of the body, as well as the relationship between performance and social memory” in its discussion of Césaire’s play, one of the great, overlooked historical plays of the Haitian revolution.

Fick “did not simplistically tack theory onto the play, but rather infused a deeper meaning into the play that gave this reader the sense that she understood the play from its author’s perspective – a very difficult task, indeed,” wrote one evaluator. “The argument was clear and carefully constructed, original and surprisingly easy to grasp given the level of complexity of the theory in its original format. A particular strength was the essay’s link between culture, the arts and power in all of its colonial, post-colonial, racial and gendered guises.”

Robitaille’s essay, “Understanding Capoeira through Cultural Theories of the Body”, “provides an excellent and in-depth overview of the scholarly work on the body as a text,” wrote an evaluator, and “provides a quite virtuosic romp through some of the main texts of cultural studies at large,” noted another. One found her paper “highly academically sophisticated” and observed: “It is supported by a strong, compelling argument that makes a significant contribution to the fields of Brazilian studies, dance studies and cultural studies. To my knowledge, no one else has used cultural theories in these ways to examine capoeira or any other movement practice. Her writing is clear, elegant, professional and complex.”

Read the essays on the CERLAC Web site where they are published as part of the Baptista Prize-Winning Essays Series.

The Michael Baptista Essay Prize was established by friends of the late Michael Baptista and the Royal Bank of Canada, where he was a senior executive. This $500 prize is awarded annually to both a graduate and an undergraduate student at York University in recognition of an outstanding scholarly essay of relevance to the area of Latin American and Caribbean studies, from the humanities, social science, business or legal perspective.

The prize is named in honour of Michael Baptista in recognition of the areas central to his spirit and success: the importance of his Guyanese and Caribbean roots, his dedication to and outstanding achievement at the Royal Bank of Canada, and his continued and unqualified drive and love of learning.