Professors talk about Guggenheim award


courtesy of NYU

Professor G. Gabrielle Starr is one of six NYU professors awarded a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Benjamin Mok , Staff Writer

This year, six professors and instructors from NYU were selected from approximately 3,000 applicants and awarded 2015 Guggenheim Fellowships. The prizes are annual grants awarded to citizens and permanent residents of the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. In order to receive the grant, one must have demonstrated exceptional scholarly or creative ability in the arts, excluding the performing arts — although choreographers, film directors and composers are still eligible.

Jeffrey Renard Allen, a faculty member in the creative writing program, plans on using the grant money as he works on his next book, a novel based on the life of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who is the primary founder of Chicago. 

“It feels good to have this validation at what essentially is the midpoint of my writing career,” Allen said.

Chris Collins, a professor of linguistics, received the award for his work in that field. Originally studying mathematics as an undergraduate, Collins decided to change to linguistics because it was more human-oriented.

“One is trying to understand an aspect of the human mind, and that appealed to me,” Collins said. “It also has a kind of mathematical feel to it. Formalization plays a role in all branches of linguistic research. So if you have a love of language and a love of puzzles, then linguistics might be for you.”

Collins plans on using the grant money to fund a trip to Botswana, where he will do research on the Khoisan languages.

“Those languages are highly endangered languages with unique linguistic properties,” Collins said. “Since there are very few speakers and they are all elderly, the task is urgent.”

Keith Miller, a faculty member in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and curator of the Gallatin Galleries, received the grant for his film-making achievements. He advises students who are pursuing careers in the artistic fields to discover their own unique way of making art.

“The real challenge of any creative practice is figuring out how you do it,” Miller said. “Especially in film today, one can make a really great movie — both in performance and look — with a smart phone. Big budgets are great I hear, but they are not a requirement. Ideas, energy and hubris are the only necessity.”

G. Gabrielle Starr, the Seryl Kushner dean of the College of Arts and Science and English professor, was both pleased and surprised upon discovering that she was awarded with the grant. She also said the award comes at a particularly poignant moment in her life.

“When I got the email, I was just thrilled and in a bit of disbelief,” Starr said. “An hour later, though, I was in tears. My father died last summer, and I wanted more than anything just to be able to give him a call.”

She said constructive criticism from her peers and colleagues contributed to her success. 

“I think the best thing you can do is to get as much critical input as you can from people whom you respect before you submit any application,” Starr said. “Ask them to be tough with you, and to give you their sharpest critique.”

The two other NYU-affiliated recipients of the grant were Lucas Hnath, faculty member in the Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Laurence Maloney, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 20 print edition. Email Benjamin Mok at [email protected].