Prof Named Guggenheim Fellow
It is not unusual to spot
Michael Gorra’s byline on
the pages of the New York Times Book Review. Gorra began
writing reviews for the newspaper more than twenty years
ago during his early days on the Smith faculty.
But Friday, April 6, his name appeared in a different section
of the newspaper: as part of a full-page advertisement purchased
by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Gorra is among this year’s 189 Guggenheim Fellows,
selected from 2,773 applicants. Fellows, read the ad, “are
appointed on the basis of unusually impressive achievement
in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.”
Next year Gorra, the Mary
Augusta Jordan Professor of English Language & Literature,
will use the fellowship to take time off from teaching
for the research and writing of a book about Henry James.
“My fascination with James has been constant,” said
Gorra. “ I teach him in some form every year…I
have written about his travel writing, his criticism and
his representation of sexual knowledge in the novels of the
1890s. I’ve always wanted to write at greater length
about him – his work, his world, his life.”
Gorra plans to chronicle
James’ career, the writing
of his most popular novel “The Portait of a Lady” and
his revision of the text more than 20 years after its 1880
publication. Gorra would like his tome to be called “Portrait
of a Novel.”
When it was released, “The Portrait of a Lady” flouted
convention by risking an ending that was both unhappy and
open. It was the “bridge across which Victorian fiction
stepped over into modernism,” said Gorra.
Using James’ correspondence, Gorra plans to reconstruct
the rhythm of the author’s working life in the places
he wrote, including London, Florence and Venice.
“I’ve already gone to Florence with this novel
in mind,” said Gorra, “walking through the town
with a 19th-century guidebook and maps, plotting the locations
of the various places in which James stayed, and visiting
the villa that he used as a model…in ‘Portrait’.”
In addition to Gorra,
this year’s Guggenheim Fellows
include playwrights, painters, sculptors, photographers,
filmmakers, choreographers, physical and biological scientists,
social scientists and scholars in the humanities.
What distinguishes the Guggenheim Fellowship program from
others, according to the foundation, is the wide range of
interest, age, geography and institution of those it selects
as it considers applications in 78 different fields, from
the natural sciences to the creative arts.
“I have been planning this book for some time now,” said
Gorra. The grant will “allow me to push deeply into
this book during the academic year 2007-08.”
Although he will not be in the classroom next year, noted
Gorra, his travels will always lead back to his office in
Seelye Hall, where he plans to do most of his writing.