Press Release: Leon Levy Center for Biography Announces 2009-2010 Fellowships

The Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center, established by a generous gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, has announced the 2009-2010 Biography Fellows. Each fellow will receive $60,000, writing space, library privileges, and participate in a seminar given by Executive Director, Nancy Milford.

The 2009-2010 Biography Fellows are: Wendy Lesser, award-winning author and founding editor of the Threepenny Review; Mary Lisa Gavenas, a fashion editor and author, who has lectured at Fashion Institute of Technology; John Matteson, Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY and author of Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father; and journalist Vanda Krefft, who has covered the entertainment industry and social issues for national publications.

The Leon Levy Center for Biography was established last year and aims to raise the profile of biography within the academy and cultivate lively interdisciplinary discussion about biography in our time. All applications were read by a screening committee that identified 15 finalists for the fellowship. Finalists were then read by a selection panel comprised of Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, former editor of the Sunday New York Times Book Review; Daniel Menaker, former Senior Vice President and Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House; James Oakes, Graduate Center Professor and recipient of the 2008 Lincoln Prize; and Joyce Seltzer, Senior Editor for History and Contemporary Affairs at Harvard University Press.

               Wendy Lesser is the founding editor of The Threepenny Review and is the author of eight books, including one novel, The Pagoda in the Garden, and seven works of nonfiction, the most recent of which is Room for Doubt.  Besides writing for Threepenny about dance, music, theater, and other cultural subjects, she occasionally reviews books for Bookforum, The New York Times Book Review, and other publications. She has received fellowships and awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the American Academy in Berlin, the Dedalus Foundation, and many other institutions and organizations.  Her current project is a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich that focuses on his 15 string quartets.

               Mary Lisa Gavenas was a columnist at ELLE and served as senior editor at Glamour, In Style, and Mirabella; she writes for the academic and popular press. Following publication of Color Stories: Behind the Scenes in America’s Billion-Dollar Beauty Industry, she became a consultant on the beauty industry. Gavenas’ biography of Mary Kay Ash had its genesis in her writing the Mary Kay Ash entry for the American National Biography published by Oxford University Press.

               John Matteson is an Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. His scholarship in 19th-century American literature includes articles published in Leviathan, Streams of William James, and The New England Quarterly. His first book, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Biography. During his residency, Matteson will continue his work on The Lives of Margaret Fuller.

               Vanda Krefft’s articles on the entertainment industry and social issues have been published in magazines and newspapers, including ELLE, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and the Los Angeles Times. She is currently at work on her first book, a biography of Twentieth Century Fox founder William Fox, to be published by HarperCollins. Krefft has received a Helm Fellowship from Indiana University’s Lilly Library and a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. Her project explores the life and times of the forgotten movie mogul whose contributions to the art, technology, and business of film laid the foundation for today’s global popular culture.

The Leon Levy Center for Biography
The Leon Levy Center for Biography was established in 2008 at the CUNY Graduate Center 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 commenced 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 are the center’s executive director and faculty director, respectively.
The Graduate Center
The Graduate Center is the primary doctorate-granting institution of the City University of New York (CUNY). The school offers more than 30 doctoral programs, as well as a number of master's programs. The Graduate Center is also home to more than 30 interdisciplinary research centers and institutes and offers an 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, 2009

Category: Leon Levy Center for Biography | Press Room