Ezra Greenspan, the Edmund and Louise Kahn Chair in Humanities, Professor of English, and former Chair of the SMU English Department, has this year been awarded dual fellowships by the National Humanities Center (NHC) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). “Rarely, if ever, have these two tremendous honors been granted to the same scholar in one year,” says Nina Schwartz, Department Chair.
The NEH, an independent grant-making agency of the U.S. government, is “dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.” The agency previously awarded funding to Greenspan during the year 1991-92. While the NEH fellowship is non-residential, the NHC requires its fellows to reside in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, near Duke and the University of North Carolina. Greenspan plans to sequence his fellowships so that they continue into the next fall semester.
The NHC, according to their website, “is the only major independent American institute for advanced study in all fields of the humanities.” The NHC “encourages excellence in scholarship” and “seeks to insure the continuing strength of the liberal arts and to affirm the importance of the humanities in American life.” It is widely regarded as the leading humanities institute in the U.S. Each year, the NHC, in an annual competition, receives approximately five hundred applications from across the United States, from which thirty to forty successful candidates are selected. Each fellow has a specially designated fellowship, and each is expected to pursue his or her project over the course of the fellowship year.
Prof. Greenspan received the John Hope Franklin Fellowship, named for the preeminent twentieth- century African American historian who ended his career at Duke University. Greenspan is currently at the NHC. “My project (for both fellowships) consists of a comprehensive biography of the African American writer-activist William Wells Brown (1814-1884),” Greenspan explains. “I hope to publish both that book and an 800-page compendium of his selected writings (the latter of which will go into the Library of America’s edition of major American writings) in 2014 — the William Wells Brown bicentennial.”
According to Greenspan, Brown is now recognized as the most prolific, pioneering 19th-century African-American writer, active in many genres (including fiction, poetry, drama, travel writing, history, and polemic), and read by a trans-Atlantic audience. An extensive body of Brown’s work is available on the web and in print form, and while much is being written about him today, Greenspan’s planned biography will provide the fullest account of Brown’s life from slavery and illiteracy to literary prominence in the United States and British Isles.