Two UT professors receive PEN awards


Wes Scarborough

Two UT professors will receive literary awards from PEN Center USA, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect freedom of speech and human rights. 

Journalism professor Bill Minutaglio will receive the research nonfiction award for his book “Dallas 1963,” along with his co-author Steven L. Davis, a curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. English professor Wayne Rebhorn will receive the translation award for Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron.”

Minutaglio’s “Dallas 1963” is a recollection of the time period leading up to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. Minutaglio said he and Davis focused on the narration of three African-Americans who lived in the “City of Hate,” as Dallas was famously known during that time. According to Minutaglio, the narrations reveal the side of Dallas concealed by the uproar of criticism that followed the Kennedy assassination.  

“We put in three people who were particularly very heroic,” Minutaglio said. “Very few people had known about them, but they worked very hard and at great odds to heal the city.”

According to Minutaglio, the book was received by some critics and readers as a cautionary tale about freedom of speech, since tensions ran high during that period of time for Dallas.

“That is what our book is about,” Minutaglio said. “The danger of letting a handful of people steal the microphone and speak for everybody.”

Rebhorn’s translation of “The Decameron” was originally written in Italian by Boccaccio between 1348 and 1352. According to Rebhorn, the book consists of several tales from different characters who lived in Florence, Italy, during the bubonic plague. Rebhorn said he published his translation in 2013 on the 700th anniversary of Boccaccio’s birth. 

“I was hoping that people would appreciate what a smart and interesting writer Boccaccio was,” Rebhorn said.  

Rebhorn said the importance of “The Decameron” lies in the different lessons taught by the characters in the book. 

“When people think Boccaccio, they think dirty stories,” Rebhorn said. “It is much more complicated than that. It is about the importance of pleasure in human life. It is a text about how stories help us live in the face of adversity.” 

Rebhorn said he hopes the contemporary style of the text makes it more accessible for readers today. 

“I use some slang, but not much,” Rebhorn said. “But I still did not want to be dated.”

Minutaglio and Rebhorn will accept their awards and $1,000 in prize money in Beverly Hills, California, on Nov. 11. 

PEN Center USA could not be reached by press time for comment.