Yale Daily News

In the past four years, current Yalies and Yale alumni have won many prestigious awards in the arts, including Oscars, Grammys and Guggenheim Fellowships.

In 2017, Tarell Alvin McCraney DRA ’07, the chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for co-writing the screenplay for “Moonlight,” which was based on his play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” Another Yale alum — Ezra Edelman ’96 — won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for producing and directing the ESPN series “O.J.: Made in America.”

“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we’re trying to show you you, and us,” McCraney said in his acceptance speech.

In 2018, Frances McDormand DRA ’82 won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Robert Lopez ’97 won Best Original Song for co-writing “Remember Me” for the Pixar film “Coco,” and he became the first-ever two-time winner of an “EGOT” — a sweep of the four major American show business awards, the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys. 

That same year, “Black Panther” exploded onto the film scene, breaking box office records and attracting widespread critical acclaim. The film, which broke cultural barriers by featuring a majority-black cast, featured many Yale alumni.

Lupita Nyong’o DRA ’12, Angela Bassett ’80 DRA ’83 and Winston Duke DRA ’13 starred in main roles, respectively playing a spy, a queen and the Jabari tribe leader, in the fictional nation of Wakanda. Shaunette Renée Wilson DRA ’16 and Zenzi Williams DRA ’15 played supporting roles. Behind the scenes, Sarah Finn ’86 was the film’s casting director, and Beth McGuire, a School of Drama professor, helped develop the actors’ African accents. The film was nominated for six Oscars in 2019 and won three. 

In 2019, Sophie Ascheim ’22, then a first year at Yale, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short for her short film “Period. End of Sentence.” Ascheim served as an executive producer for the 26-minute Netflix documentary, which documented a group of women in rural India advocating for menstrual equality.

“It’s been very crazy. I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet, and I don’t think it will for a while,” Ascheim told the News. “It was kind of an out of body experience from start to finish. I was like, ‘Holy crap, I’m at the Oscars!’”

In the past four years, faculty and alumni from the Yale School of Music have regularly won big at the Grammy Awards. Although the Grammys tend to be known for awards like “Record of the Year” or “Album of the Year,” they also present important awards for classical music. 

Eight Music School alumni won Grammys in 2018, one of the best performances by Yale alums in recent years. The winners included band leader Bryce Dessner ’98 MUS ’99, soprano-saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom ’76 MUS ’77 and orchestra members Rebecca Cherian MUS ’81, Irene Cheng MUS ’94, Louis Lev MUS ’90, Maureen Nelson MUS ’00, Kayla Moffett MUS ’13 and Joshua Koestenbaum MUS ’80. In 2019, faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis MUS ’83 won the Grammy in the “Best Contemporary Classical Composition” category. And in 2020, four School of Music alumni took home Grammys — Ken Cowan MUS ’99 ’00, Andrew Craig Brown MUS ’11 ’12, Andrew Norman MUS ’09 and Caroline Shaw MUS ’07.

“I was sitting just about 20 rows away from the Grammy Award stage — nothing can really prepare you for the shock when that envelope is torn open,” Kernis told the News. “So I was running onto stage, shaking, yet having to be composed enough to thank the people most important in the creation of the concerto, then head down for photos and interviews. I don’t exactly see how I can use that in my teaching, but knowing how to concisely thank people — in under a minute — and be ready for anything can’t hurt.”

In 2019, English lecturer and alumna Susan Choi ’09 won the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel “Trust Exercise.” Set in the 1980s, the novel concerns the relationship between two students at a competitive performing arts high school and explores topics such as the teenage experience, sexual consent and student-teacher dynamics.

“Her newest book is a poignant and compelling novel that explores the ways that people so often craft their own stories of inclusion and exclusion, investigation and revelation,” said Richard Deming, director of the English Department’s creative writing program.

Throughout the years, Yale faculty and alumni have received the Guggenheim Fellowships in recognition of their work. Issued by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the fellowship is a six- to 12-month grant that provides fellows with time to focus on their creative work. It is awarded to roughly 175 scholars, artists and writers out of a pool of 3,000 applicants each year. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, 12 Yale faculty were awarded the fellowship, and 14 Yale faculty and alumni received the fellowship in 2020 alone.

“I was thrilled,” said photographer and School of Art lecturer Danna Singer ART ’17, one of the 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship recipients. “It’s a little overwhelming because it’s such an honor. I know that people are putting a lot of faith in me, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

The Guggenheim Foundation has awarded its fellowships since 1925. 

Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu