‘I am absolutely thrilled’: Pitt professors awarded Guggenheim Fellowship


Pitt History department screenshot

Keisha Blain, Pitt associate professor of history.

By Elizabeth Primrose, Staff Writer

Keisha Blain applied to the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship thanks to the encouragement of her mentors.

“My mentors thought I would be a competitive candidate for the fellowship, and I decided to take their advice and give it a shot,” Blain, associate professor in the history department, said. “I am absolutely thrilled that my application was successful.”

The Guggenheim Foundation awards fellowships to 180 individuals who “have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts,” — including Blain, a historian, and Yona Harvey, a poet and Pitt associate professor in the department of English — from around 3,000 applicants.

Guggenheim Fellowship grants range from $35,000 to $45,000 for recipients to use in any way they deem necessary for their work — without any special conditions attached. According to the Guggenheim Foundation website, the grant provides recipients with blocks of time where they can work with “as much creative freedom as possible.”

Kathleen Blee, the dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, said the two recipients are “extraordinary scholars” and “intellectual powerhouses.”

“They are both outstanding and engaged classroom teachers, who understand that what happens in our classrooms today shapes our world tomorrow,” Blee said.

Harvey, an associate professor in the English department, said a friend encouraged her to apply for the fellowship. Before her friend suggested applying it, Harvey said she had not given it much thought.

Candidates for the fellowship must turn in applications by September, and the Guggenheim Foundation announces the recipients in early April every year. The selection process includes an examination of applicants by former Guggenheim fellows, who then submit their reviews to the selection committee. The selection committee then forwards their recommendations for the awards to the Board of Trustees for final review.

Blain’s work focuses on African American history, the modern African diaspora and women’s and gender studies. Her book “Set the World on Fire” won the 2019 Darlene Clark Hine Award from the Organization of American Historians. The Smithsonian Magazine recognized Blain’s most recent book, “Until I am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America,” as among the best history books of 2021.

Blain will use the grant to complete her next solo-authored book, which she said is tentatively titled “A Global Struggle: How Black Women Led the Fight for Human Rights.” According to Blain, the book is a “major new history of human rights framed by the ideas and activism of Black women in the United States from 1865 to the present.”

Harvey’s work includes authoring poetry collections “You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love,” which won the Believer Book Award for Poetry, and “Hemming the Water,” winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She also co-wrote Marvel’s “World of Wakanda” and “Black Panther and The Crew.”

Harvey will use the grant for work she will do in Japan next year. The Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission awarded Harvey a fellowship in 2020, but she and her cohort could not travel due to COVID-19. As Harvey hopes the borders will be open again in 2023 so her cohort can finally travel, she will use the grant from the Guggenheim fellowship to extend her time in Japan and do more research.

“I feel such deep waves of gratitude, excitement and freedom,” Harvey said. “Freedom to dig more deeply into the work that I have planned.”

Harvey said she hopes to visit a few more libraries and archives in the United States and meet more artists in Japan with the Guggenheim Fellowship grant money. According to Harvey, she will connect with Japanese poets and visual artists for various research and writing projects she has planned.

“It’s writing, it’s research, it’s fellowship,” Harvey said. “So much of [the trip] will be about fostering, maintaining and supporting relationships with Japanese artists.”

Blee said Harvey and Blain’s contributions to their respective disciplines are extremely significant.

“On behalf of the entire Dietrich School leadership team, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to Keisha and Yona on this well-deserved honor,” Blee said.

Both Harvey and Blain expressed their excitement for receiving such prestigious and selective awards to do original and impactful work in their fields.

“I am absolutely thrilled and honored to be the recipient of a 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship,” Blain said. “It’s truly one of the highlights of my career.”