The New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Announces 2015-2016 Fellows

Annie Baker, Larry Rohter, Edward Ball, Sarah Lewis, Robin Blackburn among new class members

April 30, 2015 - The New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers has selected its 17th class of Fellows: 15 extraordinarily talented independent scholars, academics, and creative writers, whose work will benefit directly from access to the collections at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Chosen from a record-high number of applicants – 349 people, from 28 countries – the 2015 class of Cullman Center Fellows includes:

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker
  • Novelists László Krasznahorkai, Paul Yoon, and Alejandro Zambra
  • Poet Vivek Narayanan
  • Egyptian journalist Yasmine El Rashidi
  • Renaissance historian Nick Wilding

"It is my honor to welcome a new class of Cullman Center fellows to The New York Public Library," said NYPL President Tony Marx. "At the Library's iconic Schwarzman Building, these Fellows have a magnificent opportunity to access our world-renowned collections and thrive in an environment that supports their research and inspires creativity. I congratulate the new Fellows and look forward to seeing the unique and creative ways they engage with our collection."

The 2015 class of Fellows will be in residence at the Cullman Center from September 2015 through May 2016. Each Fellow receives a stipend, a private office in the Center’s handsome quarters at The New York Public Library’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, and full access to the incomparable research collections and online resources available there, as well as the invaluable assistance of the Library’s curatorial and reference staff. During their tenure, the Fellows will work on projects about Benedictine monks (Annie Baker); the Ku Klux Klan (Edward Ball); slavery (Robin Blackburn); Egyptian culture after 1967 (Yasmine El Rashidi); America's first botanical garden (Victoria Johnson); Herman Melville after Moby Dick (László Krasznahorkai); race in the Caucasus (Sarah Lewis); the first Sanskrit epic poem (Vivek Narayanan); the Brazilian explorer and statesman Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon (Larry Rohter); South Sudan’s emergence from the ungoverned spaces of northeast Africa (John Ryle); jet-age technology and glamour (Vanessa R. Schwartz); Art Nouveau and "Style Congo" (Debora Silverman); book forgery (Nick Wilding); the Pyrenées Mountains during World War II (Paul Yoon); and personal libraries (Alejandro Zambra).

"We are thrilled to have such an international group of fellows, with such an exceptionally wide range of projects, coming to the Cullman Center next year," said Jean Strouse, the Sue Ann and John Weinberg Director of the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. "It will be a great pleasure to see what they discover in The New York Public Library’s invaluable collections, and how much they learn from each other." 

The Center fosters an atmosphere of creative and scholarly collaboration both within the Library and in the larger cultural environment of New York, through informal lunch-time talks and public "Conversations from the Cullman Center," a series of evening programs featuring the books Fellows worked on while in residence at the Library.

Many Cullman Center Fellows receive distinguished honors and awards for these books. Prize-winning and prominent past Fellows include Andre Aciman, Elif Batuman, Sven Beckert, David Blight, Ian Buruma, Jennifer Egan, Nathan Englander, Hal Foster, Ian Frazier, Rivka Galchen, Keith Gessen, Annette Gordon-Reed, Anthony Grafton, Philip Gourevitch, Greg Grandin, Farah Jasmine Griffin, A.M. Homes, Ada Louise Huxtable, Stephen Kotkin, Nicole Krauss, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Hermione Lee, Wendy Lesser, Phillip Lopate, Megan Marshall, Ayana Mathis, Colum McCann, Richard McGuire, Joseph O'Neill, Téa Obreht, Gary Panter, Darryl Pinckney, Karen Russell, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Stacy Schiff, Danzy Senna, James Shapiro, Adam Shatz, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Colm Tóibín, Wells Tower, and Colson Whitehead.

For more information about the Center, its current and former Fellows, and its programs for teachers and the general public, visit

About the 2015-2016 Fellows at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers

Annie Baker

The Last of the Little Hours

The Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellow

A playwright, Annie Baker is the author of The Flick, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and an Obie Award for Playwriting. Two of her earlier works, The Aliens and Circle Mirror Transformation, won Obie Awards for Best New American Play. Her other recent honors include a Guggenheim fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Hull-Warriner Prize. At the Cullman Center she will be working on a play about Benedictine monks.

Edward Ball

Biography of a Klansman

The David Ferriero Fellow

Edward Ball has published five books of history and nonfiction, including Slaves in the Family, an account of his family’s 170-year history as slaveholders in South Carolina; and The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and The Birth of Motion Pictures, about Leland Stanford and Eadweard Muybridge. He teaches writing at Yale University. At the Cullman Center he will work on the story of another family member, a Ku Klux Klansman during Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South.

Robin Blackburn

The Reckoning: American Slavery in the Victorian Age

The Gilder Lehrman Fellow

Robin Blackburn is an historian of slavery and abolition, focusing on the contribution made by slaveholders to the rise of the West. His books include The Making of New World Slavery, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, Age Shock, Banking on Death, and The American Crucible. Blackburn has been an editor of, and contributor to, The New Left Review since the 1960s, and has been an editorial consultant to Verso Books since its founding in 1970. He has taught at The New School in New York, Princeton University, and the University of Essex. He will be using his time at the Cullman Center to finish the concluding volume of his history of slavery in the Americas.

Yasmine El Rashidi

Naksa: Anatomy of a Defeat

Yasmine El Rashidi is the Cairo-based author of The Battle for Egypt, Dispatches from the Revolution. She writes on politics and culture for The New York Review of Books, and is a contributing editor at the Middle East arts and culture journal Bidoun. Her essays have been anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading, The New York Review Abroad, and Writing Revolution. At the Cullman Center she will work on a book about how Egypt's defeat in 1967 gave rise to the country's avant-garde culture.

Victoria Johnson

American Eden: Nature, Politics, and Philanthropy at the Nation’s First Botanical Garden

The Birkelund Fellow

Victoria Johnson is Associate Professor of Organizational Studies at the University of Michigan, where she teaches courses on philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. She is the author of Backstage at the Revolution: How the Royal Paris Opera Survived the End of the Old Regime. At the Cullman Center she will work on a book about botany, politics, and civil society in the early American Republic. After the conclusion of her fellowship year, she will be joining the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College. 

László Krasznahorkai 

Melville After the Death of Moby Dick

The Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai has published more than a dozen books and won numerous awards, including Hungary’s Kossuth Prize and a Soros Foundation Prize. His novels include Seiobo There Below, Satantango, The Melancholy of Resistance, and War and War. He has adapted several of his works into screenplays for the filmmaker Béla Tarr, with whom he has collaborated since 1988. During his residency at the Cullman Center he will be working on a novel about Melville after the publication of Moby Dick.

Sarah Lewis

Black Sea, Black Atlantic: Frederick Douglass, the Circassian Beauties, and American Racial Formation in the Wake of the Civil Caucasian Wars

Sarah Lewis is an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies at Harvard University (beginning July 2015). The author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, she has published in The New Yorker’s blog, The New York Times, and in exhibition catalogues for museums including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. She has served on President Obama’s Arts Policy Committee and is a trustee of Creative Time, the Andy Warhol Foundation of the Visual Arts, and the CUNY Graduate Center. At the Cullman Center she will be writing a book about the image of the Caucasus in the American racial imagination. 

Vivek Narayanan 

The Jeweled Deer: A Writing Through Vlmiki’s Ramayana

Vivek Narayanan’s books of poems include Universal Beach and Life and Times of Mr. S. Narayanan is the co-editor of Almost Island, an Indian literary journal and publishing house. He was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute in 2013-14. At the Cullman Center Narayanan will complete a book of poems that "writes through" the Ramayana of Valmiki (the first Sanskrit epic poem) in ways that try both to incorporate and reinvent what we currently think of as translation practice.

Larry Rohter

Rondon and the Making of Modern Brazil

Larry Rohter has spent thirty years as a foreign correspondent and cultural reporter for The New York Times. Before that he reported from Latin America and Asia as a correspondent and critic for Newsweek, The Washington Post, the Sunday Times of London and Rede Globo of Brazil. He is the author of two books about Brazil, one in Portuguese and one in English: Deu no New York Times and Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed. At the Cullman Center he will be working on a biography of the Brazilian explorer, statesman, scientist, philosopher, and environmentalist General Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon.

John Ryle

The Milk of Birds: Local Realities and Global Ideologies in South Sudan

John Ryle is a writer and researcher specializing in Eastern Africa. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Rift Valley Institute, a research and training association operating in Eastern and Central Africa. The author of Warriors of the White Nile, co-editor of The Sudan Handbook, and a contributor to publications including The New York Review of Books and The Guardian, Ryle is the Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology at Bard College and a Research Associate of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. During his time at the Cullman Center he will be writing a book about South Sudan’s emergence from the ungoverned spaces of northeast Africa and its encounter with world culture over the past two centuries.

Vanessa R. Schwartz

Jet Age Aesthetics: Media and the Glamour of Motion

Vanessa R. Schwartz is Professor of History and Art History at the University of Southern California, where she also directs the Visual Studies Research Institute and specializes in European and American visual culture, especially film, photography and design. She is the author of Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in fin-de-siècle Paris; It's So French! Hollywood, Paris and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture, which won the Society for French Historical Studies’ Gilbert Chinard Prize; and several co-edited volumes. At the Cullman Center she will work on a book about transport technology, globalization, and sensory experience.

Debora Silverman

Art of Darkness: Art Nouveau, 'Style Congo,' and the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, 1897-2014

Debora Silverman is Distinguished Professor of History and Art History at UCLA, where she holds the University of California Presidential Chair in Modern European History, Art and Culture. She is the author of Selling Culture: Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and The New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America; Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style, a co-winner of the Berkshire History prize; and Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Search for Sacred Art, which was awarded a Ralph Waldo Emerson National Prize for Best Book in the Humanities and a PEN American Center Architectural Digest Prize for "outstanding writing on the visual arts." At the Cullman Center she will be working on a book identifying the origins of Belgian Art Nouveau and the politics of memory in the institution created for Congo products and collections: The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren.

Nick Wilding

Forging the Moon

The Mellon Foundation Fellow

Nick Wilding is Associate Professor of Early Modern history at Georgia State University. He is the author of Galileo's Idol: Gianfrancesco Sagredo and the Politics of Knowledge. He has written widely on early modern science, and held fellowships at Stanford, Cambridge, the American Academy in Rome, the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and the New York Academy of Medicine. At the Cullman Center he will be working on a history of book forgery.

Paul Yoon

Untitled Novel

Paul Yoon’s first book, Once the Shore, a collection of short stories, won a 5 under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation, and his novel, Snow Hunters, won the 2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. At the Cullman Center he will work on a novel set in the Pyrenées Mountains during the Second World War.

Alejandro Zambra

Personal Libraries

The Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra has published fiction in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and McSweeney's, among other publications. He is the author of the novels Bonsai, The Private Lives of Trees, Ways of Going Home, and My Documents. At the Cullman Center he will be working on a book about personal libraries.  

The Cullman Center is made possible by a generous endowment from Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman in honor of Brooke Russell Astor, with major support provided by Mrs. John L. Weinberg, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Estate of Charles J. Liebman, John and Constance Birkelund, The Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, and additional gifts from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Helen and Roger Alcaly, Mel and Lois Tukman, The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, The Rona Jaffe Foundation, William W. Karatz, Mary Ellen von der Heyden, The Arts and Letters Foundation, Merilee and Roy Bostock, Lybess Sweezy and Ken Miller, and Cullman Center Fellows.

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