USC Dornsife faculty members receive Guggenheim Fellowships
Robin Coste Lewis, left, and Susanna Berger are each recipients of a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship, selected on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise. (Lewis Photo: Amanda Schwengel, Courtesy of Hampshire College; Berger Photo: Courtesy of Susanna Berger.)

USC Dornsife faculty members receive Guggenheim Fellowships

USC Dornsife’s Robin Coste Lewis of English and Susanna Berger of art history are selected from among nearly 3,000 applicants. [2½ min read]
BySusan Bell and Laura Russell

Robin Coste Lewis, writer in residence, and Susanna Berger, assistant professor of art history, both of USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, have each been awarded 2019 Guggenheim Fellowships.

Berger and Lewis were among a diverse group of 168 scholars, artists and scientists selected by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation from a group of almost 3,000 applicants on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Berger said the award was completely unexpected.

“It came as a wonderful surprise,” she said, adding that she felt deep gratitude to her “generous and brilliant mentors.”  

Berger will use the Guggenheim Fellowship to help her write a new book, tentatively titled Visual Expertise and the Aesthetics of Deception in Early Modern Italy. Berger developed her new book project while a fellow at Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. 

“In Visual Expertise and the Aesthetics of Deception, I examine a rich trove of understudied sources, from paintings by Caravaggio’s followers to ophthalmology books to anamorphic frescoes, to uncover how Italian artists, elite collectors and scientists first theorized the notion of visual expertise,” Berger said.

Berger’s research explores diverse facets of art and visual culture, from printed and drawn illustrations of philosophical knowledge to central works in the history of European early modern painting. She is the recipient of a Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, a Perkins-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Princeton Society of Fellows, and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. Her first book, The Art of Philosophy: Visual Thinking in Europe from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment, won the Bainton Prize.

Lewis, who is the poet laureate of Los Angeles, will use her Guggenheim Fellowship to finish To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness, her next full-length poetry collection. Drawing parallels between the history of exploration in the Arctic and constructions of race, the collection will show photos from her personal family archive alongside poems about northern expansion. The project is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2020

“At its crux, the collection is a poetic investigation of the ways in which human beings have resisted state terror, and how that resistance, sometimes, is most powerful when it is quiet –– as in the case of poetry and photography,” Lewis wrote in her statement to the Guggenheim Foundation.

Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf, 2015) won the National Book Award for poetry in 2016, the first debut collection by an African-American poet to do so. The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Buzz Feed, and Entropy Magazine all named the book one of the best poetry collections of the year. 

In 2018, Lewis received a Women of the Year Award from Los Angeles County and was named an Art of Change fellow by the Ford Foundation. Her current research focuses on the intersecting production histories of early African-American poetry and photography.

Established in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted over $360 million to over 18,000 individuals. This year’s competition was the foundation’s 95th.