Two UCI School of Humanities professors named Guggenheim Fellows

Two UCI School of Humanities professors named Guggenheim Fellows

 Office of the Dean April 10, 2020

Mark LeVine, professor of history, and Amy Wilentz, professor of English, receive prestigious honor

Among the 2020 Guggenheim Fellows, announced by the Board of Trustees of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation on April 8, are two UCI School of Humanities professors.

Mark LeVine, professor of history, and Amy Wilentz, professor of English in the Literary Journalism Program, are among the 175 writers, scholars, artists and scientists nationwide chosen for the award from nearly 3,000 applicants.

LeVine will use the fellowship to expand his project, Kakuma Sound. Kakuma Refugee Camp is the second-largest refugee camp in Africa and home to 180,000 people from almost two dozen countries. When visiting, LeVine found that the thousands of musicians there had no traditional instruments to perform with, which constituted a “second exile”—having lost not only their homes and homelands, but also the instruments that for centuries connected them to the environment in which they lived. LeVine’s Guggenheim Fellowship will enable him to organize the fabrication and/or purchase and transport of instruments from their home countries to Kakuma and bring musicians from neighboring countries to the camp to run workshops and help train local musicians in the instruments they've either never seen or haven't played in many years. Along with recording the resulting music, LeVine will produce a study that explores how music functions as a mediator for interpersonal and intercommunal conflict within the camp.

"I believe this honor is not for me but in recognition of the incredible artists and ordinary people struggling against what even in the best of times are quite difficult conditions and to build lives that have some degree of normalcy for themselves and their families,” said LeVine. “This award will enable myself and my colleagues to bring in instruments from at least half a dozen countries to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, help train local musicians—especially children—and nurture what we call a ‘kakuma sound’ that can help local artists earn a living through their music in a place with very few opportunities to be self-sustaining."

LeVine is a historian, musician, journalist and activist. He is the author of Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine; One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States; Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam Volumes 1 & 2; Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989; and Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil. He has written for Al-Jazeera, Jadaliyya, Le Monde, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor and TIKKUN.

The fellowship enables Wilentz to focus on writing a book about cultural appropriation in art and music in Haiti, France, the U.S. and elsewhere. As a journalist and writer, Wilentz has covered events in Haiti for decades, from the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986 to the 2010 earthquake and events into present day.

“Of course it’s a strange moment to receive this generous award and contemplate travel, reporting and research. But I feel immensely grateful for the recognition, and hopeful about my project and ideas,” she said.

Wilentz is the author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier, Martyrs' Crossing (a novel), I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger, and Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti. She is the winner of the Whiting Writers Award, the Academy for Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award, the PEN Non-Fiction Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Memoir. She has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, The London Review of Books, Time magazine, The Daily Beast, Politico, Condé Nast Traveler, Mother Jones, Harper's, Vogue and many other publications.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Amy Wilentz and Mark LeVine for being named Guggenheim Fellows,” said Tyrus Miller, dean of the UCI School of Humanities. “Their scholarly and journalistic contributions to the world have been immense and deserving of such recognition.”

Guggenheim fellowships are awarded to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. During the rigorous selection process, applicants’ work is reviewed and ranked by artists or experts in their respective fields.

“A Guggenheim fellowship has always offered practical assistance, helping fellows do their work, but for many of the new fellows, it may be a lifeline at a time of hardship, a survival tool as well as a creative one,” said Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. “As we grapple with the difficulties of the moment, it is also important to look to the future. The artists, writers, scholars and scientific researchers supported by the fellowship will help us understand and learn from what we are enduring individually and collectively, and it is an honor for the foundation to help them do their essential work.”

Click here to see the full list of 2020 Guggenheim Fellows.

Mark LeVine (left); photo credit: Steve Zylius/UCI. Amy Wilentz (right); photo credit: Paula Goldman