Three 2024 Guggenheim Fellowships for Dartmouth Faculty

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Kui Dong, Vievee Francis, and Laura Ogden are among 188 award recipients this year.

Dartmouth professors Laura Ogden, Kui Dong, and Vievee Francis
From left, Dartmouth professors Laura Ogden, Kui Dong, and Vievee Francis have been awarded Guggenheim fellowships. (Photos by Katie Lenhart; Courtesy of Kui Dong)

A composer, a poet, and an environmental anthropologist have received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Kui Dong, a professor of music; Vievee Francis, a professor of English and creative writing; and Laura Ogden, a professor of anthropology and special advisor to the provost on climate and sustainability, are among the 188 scientists, scholars, writers, and artists to win Guggenheim fellowships this year. They were selected from among almost 3,000 applicants from the United States and Canada. 

“I could not be more proud of these daring and creative scholars and artists who are exploring some of the most urgent questions of our time,” says President Sian Leah Beilock. “It is gratifying to see the Guggenheim Foundation recognizing the value of their talents and accomplishments.”

“Professors Dong, Francis, and Ogden are extraordinary scholars and teachers who inspire their students and colleagues alike with their curiosity, creativity, and dedication. They are exceptionally deserving of this prestigious recognition,” says Elizabeth F. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has provided fellowships “to exceptional individuals in pursuit of scholarship in any field of knowledge and creation in any art form, under the freest possible conditions,” according to the foundation website.

The grants, which vary in size, are intended to provide fellows “with blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible.”

Kui Dong

Kui Dong portrait
Courtesy of Kui Dong

“I’m thrilled and humbled to have received this recognition,” says Dong, a celebrated composer whose music has been commissioned and performed around the world. “It affirms that my work resonates with other like-minded creators. It will allow me to dedicate a year to concentrating on composing, which is exactly what my current project needs.”

That project, UNTIL NOW, is a one-act operatic work of musical theater. It tells the story of a young woman who seeks to end her own life, but who instead finds herself on a dreamlike journey of self-discovery that takes her from Death Valley to encounters with her ancestors, the Taoist philosopher Zhuangzhi, and the butterfly from Zhuangzhi’s famous parable, in which he could not decide if he himself was dreaming of being a butterfly, or if the butterfly was dreaming of being Zhuangzhi.

The work will feature a dramatic soprano, piano, prepared piano, electronics, and found objects. As in all of her other works, the piece will mesh a variety of sonic and cultural influences. UNTIL NOW grows out of a shorter work by the same name that was commissioned by the Asian Classical Music Initiative.

Dong was born in Beijing toward the end of the Cultural Revolution. Her mother was a Western-trained musician, and Dong followed in her footsteps to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition from Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music. She went on to complete her doctoral degree at Stanford University.

“At the conservatory, we collected folk songs from rural areas, which is how I learned about Chinese music,” she says. “Then I came to the United States, where we have so many different cultures. I found inspiration from being in and absorbing ideas from this multicultural world. Non-Western, Western, it’s the same to me—it’s all music. I’ve been asked whether I think of myself as a Chinese composer or an American composer. I have a U.S. passport, but in terms of art, I feel stateless. Art is above everything else. There’s no boundary.”

Dong has produced four full-length CDs of her compositions, including Painted Lights, Since When Has the Bright Moon Existed, Hands Like Waves Unfold, and Pangu’s Song. She is also the author of a novel, The Story of Little Soldier Duo Duo, written in English and published in translation in China. 

She has taught at Dartmouth since 1997. “I have wonderful students and interesting colleagues,” says Dong, who is currently leading a music foreign study program in London. 

She particularly enjoys learning from faculty in the sciences and engineering. “Sometimes I get fascinated by the concepts in their disciplines and incorporate them into my own work,” she says.

Vievee Francis

Vievee Francis portrait
Photo by Katie Lenhart

For Francis, the Guggenheim Fellowship comes as she is researching and writing her fifth book, a collection of “poems and considerations”—experiments in poetic forms and prose—titled Cleaning the Houses of the Dead.

“I am looking at the idea of labor and of cleaning—everything from maid culture to ideas around ethnic cleansing,” Francis says. “I’m looking at what we consider to be unclean, and how we use ideas around cleanliness to do great harm. I want to start a discussion about how to mitigate some of that harm and begin to rethink some very old and embedded thinking around whose labors matter and who gets to decide who is worth being here or not.”

The project will take her around the world, and various parts of the United States. “I’ll be interviewing people, listening to people, and all of it will inform my poetry,” says Francis, a self-described “nonshy introvert.” 

“I’m used to spending hours in utter quietude, so the journey will be one where I will have to push myself,” she says. “But the Upper Valley and Dartmouth are providing a safe haven. Knowing I can go out from this wild place and come back aids me in becoming more outward-looking in my work.” 

Francis’ previous collections include Blue-Tail Fly, Horse in the Dark, The Shared World, and Forest Primeval, which won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. An associate editor of Callaloo, a journal of African diasporic literature, she was also the librettist for The Ritual of Breath Is the Rite to Resist, an opera co-commissioned and produced by the Hopkins Center for the Arts in 2022.

Of receiving the Guggenheim, Francis says, “It’s affirming. It lets me know my work is being seriously considered.” 

At the same time, she says, “I don’t know how to describe this particular joy. I feel this against the backdrop of a world fraught and frightened and at war. I don’t know how I’m able to have the luxury of joy in the midst of that.”

Francis was born in Texas to a military family that moved throughout the South, West, and Midwest during her childhood. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Fisk University and her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She joined the Dartmouth faculty in 2016.

“One of my great joys is the brilliance of my colleagues. It feeds my work, and it is feeding the child in me that longed for the knowledge to be had outside of a Jim Crow South,” Francis says. “I will never be jaded. I will always be thrilled by what others have learned in their personal journeys” in and out of the academy. 

“And Dartmouth students have an extraordinary capacity for both the critical and creative, and to such a great extent that I’m often in awe of it,” she says. “Dartmouth is becoming this wonderful site of critical exchange and creative growth. It’s always been there, but something special is happening right now, and I’m happy that I can be part of it. Dartmouth dares to have the exchange, to encourage the discourse. That makes all the difference.”

Laura Ogden

Laura Ogden portrait
Photo by Katie Lenhart

“Throughout my career, I have sought to understand the ways environmental change, conservation efforts, and colonialism articulate to transform the world,” says Ogden, whose ethnographic research includes studies in the Florida Everglades, Tierra del Fuego, and urban environments around the United States. 

The Guggenheim award—which she calls “an enormous honor and a rare moment of feeling like my work is on the right path”—will allow her to complete her current book project, The Book of Birds: A Memoir of Extinction, which explores the push, begun in the 1980s, to save the California condor from extinction. 

“I have always been committed to experiments with writing that provoke readers to feel the world, as much as think about it—and the urgency of climate change certainly compels the way I am thinking about the form and audience,” Ogden says of the project. “At this moment, it feels important to tell stories of small moments of repair and possibility.”

The story of condor recovery—“the product of one of the most expensive conservation efforts in United States history”—has complex ethical ramifications, she says. 

“I remain deeply ambivalent about what ‘success’ means as wildfires and avian flu have emerged as new threats to condors. The book is an investigation of the significance of those threats through the lens of both settler and Indigenous recovery programs—allowing me to examine the ethics, politics, and practicalities of reintroducing species into a world of escalating environmental precarity. Though painful, this project considers the urgent question of how we hold our ground in an era of mass extinction, including the possibility of letting some species go.”

Ogden is the author of two previous books: Loss and Wonder at the World’s End and Swamplife: The Entangled Lives of Hunters, Gators and Mangroves in the Florida Everglades. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina and went on to complete her master’s and PhD in anthropology from the University of Florida. She has been a member of the Dartmouth faculty since 2014.

“Being at Dartmouth has shaped my scholarship in multiple ways, including the opportunity to teach and think with students on topics that matter and inspire me,” she says. “Support from the Leslie Center for the Humanities and my department has helped grow and nurture a community of writers and environmental humanities scholars who bring me so much joy.”

About the Guggenheim Fellowship

Faculty in all disciplines interested in applying for external funding opportunities such as the Guggenheim fellowship have access to resources through Dartmouth’s Grant Proposal Support Initiative, led by Assistant Vice Provost for Research Development Charlotte Bacon, which Ogden calls “an extraordinary resource.”

“I am also so grateful to Charlotte and the GrantGPS initiative for helping me with multiple iterations of my Guggenheim proposal,” Ogden says.

Recent Guggenheim winners include Assistant Professor of Music César Alvarez, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor Brendan Nyhan, Daniel P. Stone Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy Amie Thomasson, Professor of English and Creative Writing Alexander Chee, Frank J. Reagan ’09 Chair of Policy Studies Frank Magilligan, Professor of Earth Sciences Mukul Sharma, Associate Professor of Music Ash Fure, Professor of English and Creative Writing Emerita Cynthia Huntington, and Mary Brinsmead Wheelock Professor of History Darrin McMahon.