The board of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced the organization’s ninety-sixth roster of fellows last week. Of the 175 artists and scholars selected this year from almost 3,000 applicants in the U.S. and Canada, 9 are highly accomplished Texans. Hailing from Brownsville and Houston and everywhere in between, these creatives are dominating their fields of writing, performance arts, and more.
Awarded annually to midcareer professionals who have “already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts,” the fellowship provides honorees with grant money so they can work with as much creative freedom as possible. Last year, three Texans received the honor: writer and illustrator Edward Carey, poet Cyrus Cassells, and photographer Jennifer Garza-Cuen. Nine Texan novelists, artists, poets, composers, and photographers were honored this year.
Brownsville native Oscar Cásares is a novelist, writer-at-large for Texas Monthly, and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s creative writing program. He’s written three books, largely about his childhood and adolescence growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. His novel Where We Come From, which came out last May, is about a Mexican American family in the Rio Grande Valley that reluctantly becomes involved in smuggling immigrants into the United States.
Writer, Rice University professor, and activist Lacy M. Johnson, who’s based in Houston, covers a range of topics with the through line of injustice—from sexual assault to environmental harm—in her books The Reckonings and The Other Side. The former was named a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist in criticism and one of the best books of 2018 by the likes of the Boston Globe and Electric Literature.
The Austin-based poet Lisa Olstein has written four poetry collections. Last month, she published Pain Studies, an extended lyric essay that examines what it means to live with chronic pain and how seemingly impossible it is to write about it. Her poetry has won awards and prizes including the Pushcart Prize, Hayden Carruth Award, and others. Olstein currently teaches in the New Writers Project and Michener Center for Writers MFA program at the University of Texas at Austin, and also doubles as the lyricist for the rock band Cold Satellite.
Houston native Suzanne Bocanegra received her BFA at the University of Texas at Austin and is currently based in New York City. She’s worked as a painter, sculptor, and costume designer, but she’s perhaps best known for her performance pieces. Called “artist lectures,” they are memoiristic essays performed by actors, including the likes of Frances McDormand. Her most recent one, Farmhouse/Whorehouse from 2018, is about her grandparents’ farm in La Grange, which was across the street from a brothel.
Author Jenny Boully was born in Thailand and raised on the southwest side of San Antonio. The author of seven books, her most recent, Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life, was nearly two decades in the making. The collection blends the personal with the instructive, by examining how writing has informed the way she lives.
Artist and West Texas native Alice Leora Briggs has been featured in more than 40 solo exhibitions and included in more than 35 public collections. Her work includes thousands of drawings, letterpress books, woodcuts, broadsides, and architectural installations. For the 2010 graphic novel Dreamland: The Way Out of Juárez, she created haunting images reminiscent of an illuminated medieval manuscript by using an X-Acto knife to cut through India ink on clay, bringing journalist Charles Bowden’s words to life.
A playwright and associate professor of practice in the theater and dance department at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Fine Arts, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has received many accolades for his works, which have premiered off Broadway as well as at Yale Repertory Theatre. Most recently, his play Everybody (a riff on the fifteenth-century play Everyman) cast the roles via a lottery system, which in turn shifted the parts around frequently. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2018.
Photographer Bryan Schutmaat was born in Houston and is now based in Austin. His work focuses on the people and landscapes that shape the American West: for the photo book Good Goddamn, he documented the life of a man from rural Texas named Kris and his last few days of freedom before going to prison.
Composer Yevgeniy Sharlat has made music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments, theater, ballet, and film. His recent composition, Piano Quartet, was hailed as “one of the most compelling works to enter the chamber music literature in some time” by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Born in Moscow, Sharlat came to the U.S. as a refugee at age sixteen. Since 2005, he’s been an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Butler School of Music.