June 12, 2020

Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton announces special Hodder Fund grants for 2020-2021 to 10 emerging career artists

The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University has announced the award of additional support to artists for the 2020-21 academic year through the Mary MacKall Gwinn Hodder Fund. These grants recognize the particular challenges the COVID-19 pandemic have had on artists. The awards are intended to support the ten selected artists in continuing to advance their work in this environment. The selected artists are theater director Lileana Blain-Cruz, visual artist Onyedika Chuke, interdisciplinary director Mark DeChiazza, choreographer Marjani Forte, actor and performing artist Jennifer Kidwell, composer and musician Aurora Nealand, poet and journalist Maya Phillips, writer and translator Aaron Robertson, choreographer Katy Pyle, and visual artist Paula Wilson.

The Hodder Fund was established in the 1940s to provide artists and humanists in the early stages of their careers an opportunity to undertake significant new work. Hodder Fellows may be writers, composers, choreographers, visual artists, performance artists, or other kinds of artists or humanists who have, as the program outlines, “much more than ordinary intellectual and literary gifts.” In the regular cycle of Fellowship grants, artists from anywhere may apply in the early fall each year for the following academic year. Past Hodder Fellows have included novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, choreographer Nora Chipaumire, filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu, poet Eduardo Corral, playwrights Will Eno and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and visual artist Mario Moore, among many others. In recent years as many as five full Fellowships have been awarded from substantial and competitive applicant pools. The Hodder Fellows previously selected for the 2020-21 academic year are Kim Brandt, Amir ElSaffar, Kimber Lee, Troy Michie, and Casey Plett.

The arts sector and artists have been hard-hit by the restrictions that have been necessary during the pandemic. Artists have suffered from losses in income opportunities and sales of work and a nearly complete cessation of processes to develop new work and collaborate in-person, even as they have invested time and creative capital into finding ways to move their work into an online environment. 

This special round of smaller grants, awarded by the Lewis Center’s chair and program directors along with the Department of Music chair, recognizes emerging artists whose work, in keeping with the Hodder tradition, demonstrates “much more than ordinary” promise.

In this moment of national reckoning,” said Tracy K. Smith, Chair of the Lewis Center, “I’m reminded that the ability to imagine the world anew is vital to our survival as a collective. It’s our hope that this award will afford these exceptional artists a bit of time—and belief—to keep at it, for all of our sakes.” 

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Theater director Lileana Blain-Cruz. Photo by Sarkis Delimelkon.

Lileana Blain-Cruz is a director from New York City and Miami and a member of Princeton’s Class of 2006. Her recent projects include: Anatomy of a Suicide at Atlantic Theater Company, Fefu and Her Friends at Theatre for a New Audience; Girls at Yale Repertory Theater (which had its first production at Princeton in 2017); Marys Seacole at LCT3 at Lincoln Center, which garnered an Obie Award special Citation for Blain-Cruz ; Faust at Opera Omaha; Fabulation, Or the Reeducation of Undine at Signature Theatre; Thunderbodies and Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again at Soho Rep.; The House That Will Not Stand and Red Speedo at New York Theatre Workshop; Water by the Spoonful at Mark Taper Forum/Center Theatre Group); Pipeline at Lincoln Center; The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World at Signature Theatre, for which she received an Obie Award for Directing; Henry IV, Part One and Much Ado About Nothing at Oregon Shakespeare Festival; The Bluest Eye at The Guthrie); War at LCT3 at Lincoln Center Theater and at Yale Repertory Theater; Salome at JACK in Brooklyn; and Hollow Roots at the Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater. Blain-Cruz was named a 2018 United States Artists Fellow and a 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist. She received her M.F.A. in directing from the Yale School of Drama. “This is an historic moment, filled with unexpected hardships and challenges, fraught with a struggle for justice in this country,” said Blain-Cruz. “I am exceedingly grateful for the Hodder grant; it is insuring my immediate survival as an artist.”

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Visual artist Onyedika Chuke. Photo courtesy of Onyedika Chuke.

Onyedika Chuke was born in Oneisha, Nigeria, and lives and works in New York. He studied at The Cooper Union and has participated in numerous fellowships and residencies since 2013, including The Drawing Center, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Socrates Sculpture Park, SculptureCenter, and Residency Unlimited. Most recently, Chuke conducted research on Rikers Island as a New York City Public Artist in Residence (2018-19). His largest body of work, titled The Forever Museum Archive (2011-present), began in Libya and is an ongoing collection of objects, text, and images. In this large body of work Chuke assumes the role of the archivist, researcher, and conservator; all working together within the constructs of a theoretical museum. The mission of this museum is to collect and re-contextualize historical objects as the artist reflects on contemporary theories in politics, culture and architecture. He notes the Hodder grant will help him develop research and production based on his work on Rikers Island and more recent study of the human organ trade to create an algorithm that tracks trends in profiling based on race, gender and class. Chuke’s upcoming projects include a 2,000 square-foot, large-scale installation at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Art Center on Governors Island in collaboration with Pioneer Works, which has been delayed by the COVID-19 crisis. The project is set to open in June 2021. Since 2011, Chuke has worked on the archive in New York, Switzerland, France, and Rome. His work has been included in exhibition venues such as The Shed, SCAD Museum of Art, Queens Museum, Bronx Museum, and The American Academy in Rome. His work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, BOMB Magazine, White Wall Magazine and Precog Magazine (forthcoming). 

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Interdisciplinary director Mark DeChiazza. Photo by Jonas Hildago.

Mark DeChiazza is a director whose multifaceted practice encompasses filmmaking, choreography, scenic and media design, and installation with music and its performance integral in his projects. His work has been presented by national and international venues including Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, John F. Kennedy Center of the Arts, Guthrie Theater, Singapore International Festival of Arts, Les Subsistances, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Steppenwolf Theatre, and many others. “Over the past decade, collaborations with artists associated with the Department of Music and the Lewis Center for the Arts, have been among my most important and transformative creative relationships,” said DeChiazza. He notes that the Hodder grant will allow him to explore new forms and structures for building and sharing performance, and to look within the constraints of this moment for ways we might reorient and reconnect through art.

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Choreographer Marjani Forte in “Memoirs of a… Unicorn.” Photo by Maria Baranova.

Marjani Forte is an artist, educator, and organizer. She is a 2020 recipient of the Foundation of Contemporary Arts Grants for Artists Award and an inaugural fellow of the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center, the Jerome Hill Artist, and DanceUSA Fellowship. Forte is a two-time Princess Grace Foundation awardee and a three-time New York Dance & Performance (Bessie) Award winner for her latest work Memoirs of a… Unicorn, which is now touring internationally, and as part of the collective Skeleton Architecture. She collaborates with husband and composer Everett Asis Saunders as 7NMS| and as founding directors of the emerging platform ART & POWER. She defines her work as she notes “humbly, by its lineage stemming from culturally rich, vibrant, historic, loving, irreverent conjurers!” In receiving the Hodder grant, she said, “I can imagine few things more significant than the work we, the world, are doing right now. The energy we are pouring into manifesting a new future, in the wake of a pandemic with many faces, is insurmountable. I am grateful for institutions such as the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Hodder Fellowship grant for pouring resources and therefore energy back into my well. This grant is not only timely, it is fuel to move forward, stay focused, and grow.”  

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Actor and performing artist Jennifer Kidwell. Photo by Ryan Collerd/courtesy of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Jennifer Kidwell is a performing artist whose recent projects include Underground Railroad Game, which received a 2017 Obie Award for Best New American Theatre Work and a 2018 Edinburgh Fringe First Award; Home created by Geoff Sobelle and winner of a New York Dance & Performance (Bessie) Award for Outstanding Production; A Hard Time at Pig Iron Theatre Company: Adrienne Truscott’s Still Asking for It: A Rape About Comedy at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater; Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed by Dan Hurlin); I Understand Everything Better by David Neumann/Advanced Beginner Group, which received a New York Dance and Performance (Bessie Award) for Outstanding Production; Dick’s Last Stand at the Whitney Biennial 2014, performing as Donelle Woolford; Zinnias: the Life of Clementine Hunter, an opera by Opera by Robert Wilson, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Jacqueline Woods. Kidwell’s work has been published in Movement Research Performance Journal #45 and on She received a 2013 Theatre Communications Group Fox Resident Actor Fellowship, a 2015 Leeway Foundation Art & Change Grant, a 2016 Pew Fellowship, a 2017 Independence Fellowship, and a 2020 Ruthie Award. “Being awarded this grant in good faith at this crucial time means regard and support for my artistry and my being as an artist,” said Kidwell. “It means I can continue the work on into an uncertain future, and that I have been provided with, and so can share, abundance. It means many reasons to be grateful.”

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Composer and musician Aurora Nealand. Photo by Melissa Cardona.

Aurora Nealand is a performance artist, composer, improviser and instrumentalist (saxophone, accordion, and voice) based in New Orleans. She has figured prominently in the resurgence of traditional New Orleans Jazz amongst a younger generation of musicians, and she is an avid supporter/performer of original new music and improvised music. She has worked with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tim Berne, Bill Frisell, Animal Collective, and leads several of her own projects and bands. In 2019 she debuted KindHumanKind, a 90-minute staged theater piece based on her original music, at the Contemporary Arts Center. With the support of the Hodder grant, Nealand will begin work on Cryborg, a piece exploring how our increasingly emotional, entwined relationship to modern technologies is affecting our bodies, minds and communities. 

“I am extremely grateful and thankful for this unexpected grant and belief in my growth as an artist,” said Nealand. “It is truly a buoy of spirit and fortitude, especially at this time where there have been so many artistic-career cancellations and restructuring of life-paths and community. I hope to be able to do the grant justice by remaining engaged, open, and serving my community as best I can as an artist.”

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Poet and journalist Maya Phillips. Photo by Molly Walsh

Maya Phillips is a poet and journalist. She is the author of Erou (Four Way Books, 2019), which was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award, and NERD: On Navigating Heroes, Magic, and Fandom in the 21st Century, forthcoming in summer 2022 from Atria Books. Her poetry has appeared in American Literary Review, At Length, BOAAT, Ghost Proposal, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Rumpus, Vinyl, The Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, and The New York Times Magazine. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, Vulture, The Week, and more. She is the 2020-21 New York Times Arts Critic Fellow and lives in Brooklyn. She shared, “I am honored to receive the inspiring gift of the Hodder grant, which I’ll use to work on my next work in progress, a hybrid project that draws from my backgrounds in both poetry and criticism.”

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Choreographer Katy Pyle. Photo by Michael Sharkey.

Katy Pyle is a genderqueer lesbian dancer and choreographer who began Ballez in 2011. Ballez challenges classical ballet through the creation of large-scale story ballets, classes, and public engagements that center genderqueer experience. Pyle’s major works include “The Firebird, a Ballez,” a Danspace Project; “Variations on Virtuosity” for American Realness at Abrons Art Center; “Sleeping Beauty & the Beast” at La Mama; and “Slavic Goddesses” at The Kitchen with visual direction by Paulina Olowska. Pyle’s next project is “Giselle of Loneliness,” premiering in June 2021. Pyle has taught Ballez at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Gibney Dance, Princeton University, Yale University, Movement Research, CounterPULSE, New York University, Bowdoin College, Whitman College, Beloit College, and Slippery Rock University. Pyle currently teaches on Zoom and at the Eugene Lang School of Liberal Arts at The New School. “I’m very honored to receive this support at this moment,”said Pyle. “This funding will be used to support the continued creation of ‘Giselle of Loneliness,’ which is slated (now) to premiere in June 2021, and will enable us to rediscover how to work as a company, even through the devastating effects this pandemic has had on our support structures. And, the news of receiving this award has already uplifted my spirit so much, giving me hope to continue, which is truly invaluable.”

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Writer and translator Aaron Robertson. Photo by Angélica Vielma.

 Aaron Robertson is a writer and translator. He has written for publications including The New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and more. His translation of Igiaba Scego’s novel Beyond Babylon (Two Lines Press) was shortlisted for the 2020 PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. He received a Silvers Grant for Works in Progress, sponsored by the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, to support his research on the history of the Black Christian Nationalist Church in Detroit. Robertson will use the Hodder grant to continue work on a novel based on his feature about African American utopianism that appears in the Summer 2020 issue of The Point Magazine.  

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Visual artist Paula Wilson. Photo by Angie Rizzo.

Paula Wilson was born in Chicago and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University and a B.F.A. from Washington University in St. Louis. Wilson’s artworks are in the collections of The Studio Museum in Harlem, Yale University, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, The Rubell Family Collection, The New York Public Library, and The Fabric Workshop & Museum. She has been featured in publications such as Hyperallergic, Artforum, The New York Times, The Brooklyn Rail, and The New Yorker. She is a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Artist Grant and the Bob and Happy Doran Fellowship at Yale University. Wilson is based in Carrizozo, New Mexico, where she is co-founder of the artist organizations MoMAZoZo and the Carrizozo Artist in Residency (AIR). She said, “The Hodder grant not only gives me the means, but also the unrestricted encouragement, to pursue the creative endeavors that mean the most to me.”

As with the Hodder Fellowships, these grants only require that the artists continue advancing their work and making the most of their creative potential.

To learn more about the Hodder Fellows, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the more than 100 public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts and lectures presented each year, most of them free, visit

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