Date April 16, 2024
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Two Brown faculty members win Guggenheim fellowships

The prestigious fellowships will support the creation of new books by Matthew Pratt Guterl, a professor of Africana studies and American studies, and Laird Hunt, a professor of literary arts.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University professors Matthew Pratt Guterl and Laird Hunt have been awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the organization announced on April 11.  

Guterl, a professor of Africana studies and American studies, and Laird Hunt, a professor of literary arts, are among the 188 American and Canadian scholars, scientists, writers and artists selected this year from more than 3,000 applicants.

“I was shocked and a little speechless when I got the word,” Hunt said. “To get this nod is exhilarating and immensely gratifying.”

Guterl noted it is a “special privilege to be part of this group” of past and current Guggenheim fellowship recipients.

Each plan to use the award stipend to support the creation of a new book.

Matthew Pratt Guterl: Exploring connections across social and political movements

Guterl is working on a nonfiction project, titled “The Troubles: Civil Rights in Ireland and America,” about the international connections between the 1960s and 1970s protests of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and the Civil Rights movement in the United States. The personal and political connections that developed at the time, some of which are lost or largely forgotten, warrant study and discussion, he said. 

Matthew Pratt Guterl
Matthew Pratt Guterl. Photo by Rachel Hulin.

He described the Guggenheim award as “rocket fuel in the engine” for his book, which he plans to work on this summer and while on sabbatical during the 2024-25 academic year. He will conduct oral interviews and engage in archival research in Northern Ireland, Ireland, the United States and other locations.

Guterl said that delving into personal histories from these movements in the U.S. and Northern Ireland — including, for instance, the trans-Atlantic overtures of the Black power and Black arts movements, and the activism of the Northern Irish Civil Rights Association, which organized a march in 1968 in support of better housing and representative democracy for the Catholics — will enable him to frame their struggle in the larger context of a global struggle for human rights.

Members of the two movements engaged in noteworthy acts of support for each other’s causes, noted Guterl. In his proposal, for example, he focused on the life of Bernadette Devlin, an Irish college student who famously announced that she had given the key to the city of New York to the Black Panthers and visited famed organizer Angela Davis in a women’s detention center.

“I don’t want to romanticize a lost moment or mourn a generally forgotten moment of cross-racial solidarity,” Guterl wrote. “Instead, I want to mark the ways in which these connections illuminate a longer, recursive history of human rights struggle that made the global 1968 possible. The movements and mobilizations of that year change the world in fundamental ways. They should be part of our storytelling about how we got to where we are now, and maybe how we get out of this thicket of tragic inequities.”

“The Troubles” is a continuation and expansion of research he has conducted over the past few decades for earlier monographs, including “The Color of Race in America: 1900-1940,” “Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe” and the forthcoming “The Hanged Man,” which is about the life of Roger Casement, an Irish diplomat who was executed for treason.   

Guterl has also written about transnational cross-racial connections from a personal lens; last year he published “Skinfolk,” a memoir about growing up in the 1970s in an international, mixed-race family in New Jersey.

Laird Hunt: ‘My journey as a writer has always been linked with my journeys in the world’

Also an author, Hunt plans to use the Guggenheim award to fund research and writing time for a work of historical fiction, which will be his ninth novel. 

Hunt's eight published novels include “Zorrie,” which was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award in fiction. Earlier this year, he released a collection of short stories, titled “Float Up, Sing Down,” which follows 14 interconnected characters over the course of one day in the 1980s. 

Laird Hunt
Laird Hunt

“My aim is to use this honor to take my work to another level — to push it farther, to go a little deeper and take myself into a new artistic territory,” Hunt said. “I feel a kind of intellectual lift that has an emotional underpinning and gives me a sense of possibility.”

Hunt said his forthcoming ninth novel will be in conversation with his previous books, several of which are set in time periods representing critical junctures in American history. “Neverhome,” for example, is set during the Civil War, and follows a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight for the Union. His 2018 novel, “In the House in the Dark of the Woods,” is a psychological horror story about a woman who goes missing in Colonial-era New England.

He added that he aims to build on lessons learned in previous novels while also breaking new ground in terms of structure and subject matter.

Hunt plans to use some of his fellowship stipend to support travel and exploration, a practice that has long fueled his creative process. He first started writing fiction in the early 1990s while teaching English in Japan as a recent graduate of Indiana University. More than two decades later, he turned some of those “seeds” into his novel “Zorrie.”

“My journey as a writer has always been linked with my journeys in the world,” said Hunt, who has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, which honors works by American writers.