Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts has announced the selection of five Mary Mackall Gwinn Hodder Fellows for the 2021-2022 academic year. This year’s recipients include choreographer/performer Leslie Cuyjet, visual artist Mark Thomas Gibson, playwright and poet Anya Pearson, gwenyambira and musician Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, and music theater composer Brandon Webster.
In making the announcement, Tracy K. Smith, chair of the Lewis Center, said, “In a year of unimaginable loss and tremendous uncertainty, it means a lot to know that so many artists have managed to keep doing the work of healing, community-building and fostering revelation in their different ways. It’s with tremendous gratitude that the Lewis Center offers the gift of time, resources and belief to these five emerging artists.”
“In a year of unimaginable loss and tremendous uncertainty, it means a lot to know that so many artists have managed to keep doing the work of healing, community-building and fostering revelation in their different ways.”
— Tracy K. Smith
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.” 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, painter Mario Moore, poet Natalie Diaz, choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili, playwright Lauren Yee, and composer and lyricist Michael Friedman.
Leslie Cuyjet is a choreographer and performer who has co-directed, designed, danced, and collaborated with a range of artists including Cynthia Oliver, Will Rawls (2019-20 Hodder Fellow), Juliana F. May, Jane Comfort, David Gordon, Anohni, NARCISSISTER, Kim Brandt (current Hodder Fellow), Niall Jones, and a canary torsi/Yanira Castro, among many others. In 2019, her sustained achievement as a performer was awarded with a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award. Cuyjet’s own work interrogates experiences, performing in various experimental and post-modern forms, through the lens of a Black body. Her work has been supported by residencies at Movement Research (2017-2019), Center for Performance Research (2019), Yaddo (2019), MoMA PS1 (2019), New Dance Alliance (2020), and MacDowell (2020). During her residency, Cuyjet plans to curate and create methods to preserve cultural and art history through dance and movement.
Mark Thomas Gibson’s personal lens on American culture stems from his multipartite viewpoint as an artist, as a Black male, a professor, and an American history buff. These myriad and often colliding perspectives fuel his exploration of contemporary culture through languages of painting and drawing, revealing a vision of a dystopic America where every viewer is implicated as a potential character within the story. Gibson received his B.F.A. from The Cooper Union in 2002 and his M.F.A. from Yale School of Art in 2013. He is represented by Fredericks & Freiser in New York, M+B in Los Angeles and Loyal in Stockholm. In 2016 he co-curated the travelling exhibition Black Pulp! with William Villalongo. He has released two books, Some Monsters Loom Large (2016) and Early Retirement (2017). Gibson is currently an assistant professor at Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University and lives and works in Philadelphia. He plans to use his time as a Hodder Fellow to explore the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election through drawing, painting, and printmaking, while working toward the completion of a new artist’s book.
Anya Pearson is an award-winning playwright, poet, producer, actress, and activist. She is finishing her debut collection of poetry, writing three pilots, and “constantly plotting, planning, devising, creating, imagining, and revising visions of a better, more just world.” Her plays include The Measure of Innocence (The Kilroys List, Drammy Award for Best Original Script); Made to Dance in Burning Buildings (Showcase: Joe’s Pub, New York City and Shaking the Tree, Portland, Oregon); The Killing Fields (2018 Orphic Commission, Seven Devils New Play Foundry, and Great Plains Theatre Conference); and Three Love Songs (Play at Home Initiative commissioned by Portland Center Stage at the Armory). She is on the staff of Corporeal Writing and under commission from Portland Center Stage. She is a member of LineStorm Playwrights, Dramatist Guild, and Actors Equity Association. She will spend the fellowship year writing an original play examining and dissecting the roots and ramifications of gentrification and how they intersect with the achievement gap to further promote inequality in our society.
Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa is a Zimbabwean gwenyambira (mbira player), composer, singer, scholar and healer. Her craft is grounded in the Chivanhu ancestral canon taught to her by the generations of Svikiro (spirit mediums) and N’anga (healers) in her bloodline. Her work calls for a reintegrative practice that heals the spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual disembodiment caused by the 600-year colonial war waged against her people. Tawengwa earned her B.A. in Music Composition at Princeton University (cum laude), her M.M. in Voice Performance from the University of Kentucky and is a doctoral candidate in Voice Performance. During the fellowship year, Tawengwa will compose Mudzimu Dzoka — a biomythographical, multi-disciplinary performance piece detailing her re-embodiment of Zimbabwean ancestral practices as a panacea for colonial disembodiment. She will also produce an auto-theoretical article in a comic book format called Cultural Vampires: White Exploitation of Zimbabwean Mbira Music.
Brandon Webster is a New York City-based composer, dramaturg and storyteller committed to telling afro-futurist and afro-surrealist stories that “center radical ideas, joy as freedom, and the possible impossibilities of everyday life.” He continues to challenge traditional musical form, structure, and sound in order to push the canon of musical theater forward, often blending genres to create a bridge from Black culture to American theater for Black audiences. He is an alumnus of the 2013 class of BMI Musical Theater Workshop, a 2017 MCC Theater Artistic Fellow, and part of the inaugural class of Musical Theater Factory’s MAKERS. For his fellowship year Webster will be writing KRONOS, a two-person musical that is an afro-surrealist interrogation of toxic masculinity and experiment on musical theater form.
In addition to creating new work, Hodder Fellows may engage in lectures, readings, performances, exhibitions and other events at the Lewis Center for the Arts, most of which are free and open to the public.
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 arts.princeton.edu.