Press Release: Four Writers Receive $60,000 Biography Fellowships for Extraordinary Works in Progres

The newly inaugurated Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center, established by a gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, has announced its first class of Biography Fellows. Each fellow will receive a cash award of $60,000, writing space, faculty privileges and participate in a seminar coordinated by Executive Director, Nancy Milford. The 2008-9 Biography Fellows are: Thulani Davis, author, librerettist and cultural critic; Mary Anne Weaver, author and foreign correspondent; Molly Peacock, poet and memoirist, and James Davis, Associate Professor of English, Brooklyn College.

The pool of applicants for the four fellowships was extremely competitive. Well over two hundred biographers applied, forty of whom were distinguished applicants whose achievements include MacArthur Grants, Emmy Awards, Guggenheim Fellowships, Whiting Awards, Pulitzer Prizes and publications that have appeared on the bestseller lists of the New York Times. One of the fellowships was reserved specifically for a CUNY professor. Seventy-nine applicants hold a doctorate and proposed projects included plays, juvenile literature, documentary films and biographies in verse. All applications were read by at least two members of a selection committee comprised of History, English and Art History professors and literary professionals

Thulani Davis has begun a group biography of four blues queens: Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter and Bessie Smith. Past honors include a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Writer’s Award, a PEW Foundation National Theatre Artist Residency, and a Charles H. Revson Fellowship. In 1993, she was awarded the Grammy for Best Album Notes.

Mary Anne Weaver is at work on The Strange Journey of Ziad Jarrah: the Story of a Terrorist a biography of the seemingly secular scion of a wealthy Lebanese family and hijacker of the plane that would crash in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001. A long-time foreign correspondent for The New Yorker magazine, her distinctions include time spent as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Guggenheim Fellow.  

Molly Peacock
is writing Passion Flowers in Winter: A Woman Begins Her Life’s Work at the Age of 73, an impressionistic biography examining the late-life artistic coming-of-age of Mrs. Mary Granville Delany, the18th-century cut-paper botanical artist. Her poems are widely anthologized, appearing in The Best of the Best American Poetry and The Oxford Book of American Poetry. Her essay about Delany appears in The Best American Essays 2007.  
James Davis will continue work on Eric Walrond: Writing Beauty, Race, and Rage Across the Caribbean Diaspora, a meditation on the life and work of a writer who rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. Davis’ publications include a book about the intersection of race and emergent U.S. consumer culture entitled Commerce in Color (University of Michigan Press, 2007). In 2005, Davis received a Whiting Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Humanities.

Two CUNY Graduate Center Ph.D. candidates will also receive support and participate in the seminar. The 2008-2009 Biography Dissertation Fellows are:

Ilan Ehrlich, History
Eduardo Chibás Will Speak Tonight at 8pm: How a Charismatic Senator Transformed Cuban Politics and Committed Suicide
Hyewon Yi, Art History
Photographer as Participant Observer: The Photographs of Larry Clark, Richard Billingham and Nobuyoshi Araki

Founded to bring fresh voices and innovative approaches to the genre of biography, the newly inaugurated Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center was established by a gift from the Leon Levy Foundation. Envisioned as a hub for writers, scholars, students and readers of the genre, The Leon Levy Center for Biography will commence programming in the academic year beginning September 2008. The Center seeks to build connections between university-affiliated and independent biographers working in print, film, visual arts, and new media and across academic disciplines. Acclaimed biographers and CUNY faculty members Professors Nancy Milford and David Nasaw have been appointed Executive Director and Faculty Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography, respectively.  

The Graduate Center

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of the City University of New York (CUNY). An internationally recognized center for advanced studies and a national model for public doctoral education, the school offers more than thirty doctoral programs, as well as a number of master's programs. Many of its faculty members are among the world's leading scholars in their respective fields, and its alumni hold major positions in industry and government, as well as in academia. The Graduate Center is also home to twenty-nine interdisciplinary research centers and institutes focused on areas of compelling social, civic, cultural, and scientific concerns.  Located in a landmark Fifth Avenue building, the Graduate Center has become a vital part of New York City's intellectual and cultural life with its extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events.  Further information on the Graduate Center and its programs can be found at

The Leon Levy Foundation

The Leon Levy Foundation, founded in 2004, is a private, not-for-profit foundation created from the estate of Leon Levy, a legendary investor with a longstanding commitment to philanthropy.  The Foundation's overarching goal is to continue the tradition of humanism characteristic of Mr. Levy by supporting scholarship at the highest level, ultimately advancing knowledge and improving the lives of individuals and society at large.

Submitted on: APR 1, 2008

Category: Press Room