Courtesy of Yale Faculty of Arts and Science

Yale professors Daphne Brooks and Milan Svolik have been selected from a pool of 2,500 applicants as recipients of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.

On April 7, in the 97th annual Guggenheim Fellowship competition, Brooks, a professor of African American studies, women’s, gender and sexuality studies and music, and Svolik, a professor of political science, were among 180 individuals awarded the fellowship from a wide range of artistic fields and scholarly disciplines. Brooks was named as the sole recipient of the fellowship in the theater arts and performance studies category. Svolik was one of two recipients in the political science category. 

According to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation website, the fellowships are given to “mid-career individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts and exhibit great promise for their future endeavors.” Brooks and Svolik will continue to produce research in their respective fields through a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation.

“It’s wonderful to be included in a community populated by so many of my peers in academia and the arts whom I deeply admire,” Brooks wrote to the News, going on to discuss her intended work through the fellowship, the first full-length study of the 1935 “folk opera” Porgy and Bess. “I’m very pleased to have the support of the Guggenheim to not only dissect and illuminate the multiple dimensions of this classic and yet deeply troubling and problematic text but to also tell a different story in which generations of Black women creatives have subverted and reinvented composer George Gershwin and librettist/lyricist DuBose Heyward’s material.”

Both professors have received recognition for recent books — Brooks recieved the 2021 Museum of African American History Stone Book Award for “Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound,” and Svolik took home the best book award from the Comparative Democratization Section of the American Political Science Association for “The Politics of Authoritarian Rule.” 

In addition to the experience that can be gained by the fellowships themselves, the professors’ departments and students also stand to benefit from their work through the fellowship. 

Brooks has already indicated interest in leading an undergraduate seminar on Porgy and Bess in the African American Studies Department upon her return from sabbatical, noting the timeliness of the decision as Black feminist filmmaker Dee Rees is working on a new version of the opera.

“Professor Brooks’ Guggenheim fellowship is exciting news and a much-deserved honor for her,” Jacqueline Goldsby, chair of the African American Studies Department, wrote to the News. “Professor Brooks’ writing on African American music and literature, sound studies and Black feminist theory is breaking open so many new questions and archives; she deserves the Guggenheim year to dig into her next project on George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess. All of us in African American Studies — faculty and students — are thrilled that she’s won this prize fellowship.”

Svolik, whose work focuses on comparative politics, political economy and formal political theory, will use his fellowship in political science to undertake a number of paper-length projects as well as to synthesize years of research on democratic backsliding into a book manuscript, “Downsizing Democracy: Why Ordinary People Acquiesce to Authoritarianism.”

Svolik is seeking to address a lack of empirical evidence and rigorous theoretical framework in extant research to approach the question: “When can we realistically expect democratic publics to serve as a check on the authoritarian temptations of elected politicians?”

“My ambition for the book is to offer a rigorous explanation and the most comprehensive evidence to date for when and why democratically elected politicians succeed in subverting democracy,” Svolik wrote in his statement of plans for the Guggenheim Fellowship. 

Svolik said he sees this work as addressing one of the most important intellectual challenges facing social science today.

Chair of the Political Science Department Gregory Huber said that the department is “thrilled” about Svolik’s fellowship, and that his success continues Yale’s “excellent history” with the award.

“Professor Svolik’s early research on how autocrats retain power has now turned to the equally important question of how democracies can backslide to autocracy, in part, with popular support,” Huber wrote to the News. “Understanding the fragility of democracy is at the forefront of efforts to understand patterns observed worldwide in which the move to democratize is far from a one-way street.”

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation was founded in 1925.

GAVIN GUERRETTE
Gavin Guerrette covers faculty scholarship & breakthroughs. He is a freshman in Branford College majoring in Humanities.