Scholarly Achievement, Exceptional Promise Win Three CUNY Professors Guggenheim Fellowships

Three CUNY professors — an accomplished translator and an innovative visual-studies scholar at Baruch College and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet at the College of Staten Island — have been awarded 2018 Guggenheim Fellowships, one of the most prestigious prizes in the humanities.

They were among 173 scholars, artists and scientists chosen from nearly 3,000 applicants in the 94th competition of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, which since 1925 has granted more than $360 million in fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals, many of them internationally recognized in their fields. Fellows are appointed based on prior scholarly achievement and exceptional promise.

Esther Allen and Alison Griffiths, faculty members at Baruch’s George and Mildred Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, were the only Guggenheim Fellows selected in their respective award categories. Guggenheim Fellow Tyehimba Jess, who garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2017, is a professor in CSI’s English Department.

Chancellor James B. Milliken said, “Esther Allen, Alison Griffiths and Tyehimba Jess exemplify the great talent of CUNY’s faculty and the world-class quality of this University. I am proud to congratulate them on the achievement of being named Guggenheim Fellows, an honor that will provide resources for them to continue their illuminating scholarship, teaching and creativity in the arts.”

Esther Allen is a professor in Baruch’s Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature and in the Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Programs in French and in Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures. As a Guggenheim Fellow she will complete the translation of The Silentiary (first published in 1964) and The Suicides (1968), two novels by the Argentinian writer Antonio Di Benedetto (1922-1986), who was appointed a Guggenheim Fellow in 1973 shortly before he was imprisoned for 18 months and tortured during Argentina’s Dirty War. Allen also translated Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel Zama, first published in English in 2016 and named by Publishers Weekly as one of the year’s 20 best works of fiction.

“This recognition is a singular honor,” said Allen, “because so many former Guggenheim Fellows have made such distinguished contributions. I’m delighted to find myself in the company of two in particular, Di Benedetto and Gregory Rabassa.” She said that Rabassa, a CUNY professor for four decades and a 1988 Guggenheim Fellow, was “the greatest 20th-century translator of Latin American literature.”

Allen worked with Michael Henry Heim to establish the PEN/Heim Translation Fund in 2003, and co-founded the PEN World Voices Festival in 2005. The French government named her a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres in 2006.

Alison Griffiths, a professor at the Graduate Center and in the Department of Communication Studies at Baruch, was awarded a Guggenheim for Film, Video, and New Media Studies. With her fellowship, she will complete a book entitled Nomadic Cinema: A Cultural Geography of the Expedition Film which will examine expedition filmmaking during the 20th century, focusing on films shot in Borneo, Central Asia and the American Southwest.

“The biggest challenge I expect to face in completing Nomadic Cinema is the scale of the project,” said Griffiths. “The book also constructs a longer intellectual history of images of exploration dating back to the Middle Ages as well as ending with a brief analysis of the role of digital technologies in documenting contemporary expeditionary travel.”

Griffiths, the author of three monographs and more than 35 journal articles and book chapters, won the CUNY Felix Gross Outstanding Research Award in 1999 and has twice been a recipient of the Baruch College Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarship. In 2015-16, she served as Interim Dean of the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at Baruch. Her most recent book, Carceral Fantasies: Cinema and Prison in Early Twentieth-Century America (Columbia University Press, 2016) tells the little-known story of how cinema found a home in the U.S. penitentiary and how the prison and capital punishment emerged as settings and narrative tropes in modern cinema.

Guggenheim Fellow Tyehimba Jess, poet and professor of English at CSI, is the author of two books of poetry, Leadbelly and OlioOlio won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, The Midland Society Author’s Award in Poetry, and received an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. It was also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Jean Stein Book Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Leadbelly, winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series, was named one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005” by both the The Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review. Jess’s other awards and honors include a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2004-2005 Winter Fellowship at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 23 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields. The University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies. For more information, visit