Mason Doctoral Student Wins MacArthur Fellowship

Posted: June 15, 2000 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Deborah Willis, a Ph.D. candidate in the Cultural Studies Program, has received a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Willis is curator of exhibitions at the Center for African-American History and Culture and the Anacostia Museum at the Smithsonian Institution.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. Willis will receive $100,000 each year for the next five years to spend as she wishes, with no strings attached. The money will enable Willis to exercise her own creative instincts for the benefit of society at large.

Willis has curated a number of major exhibits and has written several books on African American photography, art, and culture. Her current exhibition at the Smithsonian, Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present, brings together the work of contemporary and early African American photographers. For more information, see her biography online.

Since the award was created in 1981, there have been between 20 and 40 recipients annually. This year, 25 fellows were named based on extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Recipients are chosen by an anonymous selection committee composed of leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities, and nonprofit communities.

Willis, 52, began her Ph.D. studies in 1996. She received her M.A. in Museum Administration from the City University of New York, her M.F.A. in Photography from the Pratt Institute, and her B.F.A. from the Philadelphia College of Art. At George Mason, Willis has addressed the Cultural Studies Colloquium about her own work as a curator and a photographer, and has recruited other colloquium speakers throughout the years. She is in the process of completing her field specializations in visual culture and race, gender, and identity, with a focus on the black female body in photography.

“The Cultural Studies Program is especially proud of the exceptional quality of Deborah’s work, both in the program and professionally. We are thrilled and honored that she has been recognized by the MacArthur Foundation,” says Roger Lancaster, director, Cultural Studies. Willis has worked closely with a number of faculty, including her chair, Larry Levine, History and Art History, who was one of the first historians to win a MacArthur Fellowship in 1983. She also is working with Zofia Burr, English, and Jeffrey Stewart, History and Art History and African American Studies.

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