Two in Valley with Guggenheim Fellowships


Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2023 8:58 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A University of Massachusetts professor and a filmmaker who grew up in Amherst are among eight people in Massachusetts who have won Guggenheim Fellowships.

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, who teaches English at UMass and is a specialist on the novel and biography, has been awarded one of the fellowships. Filmmaker Amber Bemak, who teaches film and media studies at Southern Methodist University in Texas but currently lives in Northampton, also has won the award.

All told, 171 people, from some 72 academic institutions, have been awarded a 2023 Guggenheim, the annual prestigious grant in academia and for filmmakers, composers and choreographers. The awards, the amounts of which vary, are used to fund art or scholarly projects.

Gerzina, the Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography at UMass, has written nine books and numerous articles in the fields of Black British studies, Victorian studies, African American women’s writing and mixed-race studies.

According to the university, Gerzina also works extensively in the media in the U.S. and Great Britain. She previously hosted a nationally syndicated author interview program on American public radio for 15 years, and she appears regularly in podcasts and on radio in Britain.

On her website, Gerzina says she’s also writing a memoir about growing up mixed race in Springfield, “Growing Up on the Corner of Black and White.” She was awarded her Guggenheim for a second book she’s writing, this one on black women in pre-20th century Britain.

Bemak, a graduate of Amherst Regional High School, has co-directed and produced a range of documentary and experimental films on subjects such as Tibetan Buddhism, unconventional families, women’s bodies and more.

More recently, she directed “100 Ways to Cross the Border,” a documentary on the Mexican/Chicano performance artist and writer Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who has used the U.S-Mexico border as a lens for much of his work, exploring themes of cross-cultural identity, language, colonization, sexuality and more.

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BOMB magazine calls the film “a tantalizing compilation of provocations. Each performance is an agitation against unfreedom, each tactic a crossing of borders into a potentially better beyond.”

Among the six other Guggenheim winners in Massachusetts are a photographer, a Harvard University philosophy professor, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and a composer who teaches at Boston Conservatory at Berklee College of Music.

According to the Guggenheim Foundation, nearly $400 million has been awarded to over 18,000 people since the organization was founded in 1925; those winners include more than 125 Nobel laureates, as well as Pulitzer Prize winners and other high achievers.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at