Fellowship Flows at Gathering of Guggenheims

Photograph: Professors Robert K. Merton, Robert A. Mundell and Jack H. Beeson. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

With more than 250 fellows, Columbia boasts one of the largest groups of Guggenheim recipients in the world. On Nov. 14, dozens of them gathered in Low Library for a social function sponsored by the Guggenheim Foundation and Columbia.

"It's a chance for my colleagues and me to get to know many of you," Joel Conarroe, president of the Guggenheim Foundation, told the assembly.

Many fellows expressed gratitude for their grants, the positive effects of which they feel even 20 years later.

"Mine was a great help," said Nora Sayre, a writer who teaches in the School of General Studies. Her fellowship, awarded in the 1970s, allowed her to travel, conduct research, and, "It bought me time in the most wonderful way," she said.

Colette Inez, a poet who also teaches in General Studies, said, "It was very dramatic for me to get the Guggenheim. It sent me to France to visit a reluctant birth mother, who had given me up to Catholic sisters." The experience resulted in a successful book of poetry by Inez, Family Life, which is now in its third printing.

"It was really the Guggenheim that supported me during the writing of that book," Inez said. "And there's nothing else that has the cachet, the glamour, the heft of the Guggenheim."

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation was created in the 1920s to recognize and reward promising young artists, scholars and scientists. Over the years, as its recipients went on to become some of the most prominent people in their fields (including James Baldwin, Ansel Adams and Henry Kissinger), the Guggenheim became a prestigious and highly prized award. There are more than 10,000 living Guggenheim fellows.

Elliott P. Skinner, Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology, won his Guggenheim in 1975 and wrote African American and US Policy Toward Africa 1850-1924. Skinner served as U.S. Ambassador to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), and became the first African-American professor to be tenured and to hold a named chair in the Ivy League. His colleague in the anthropology department, chairman Alexander Alland Jr., received his Guggenheim in 1977, which allowed him to research and write the first published systematic study of children's art, Playing With Form: Children Draw in Six Cultures.

In the last few years, the Guggenheim Foundation has been hosting social events for its fellows around the country. Despite recent reports that the foundation is financially strained, Conarroe said, "We aren't having any trouble. We are in a celebratory mood and prepared to give more fellowships."

Columbia University Record -- December 1, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 11