New York University Professor Deborah Willis, who has appointments in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and its Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS), has received an inaugural Fletcher fellowship, an award established by Wall Street money manager Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. The fellowships were created to support work that improves race relations and illuminates civil rights issues. The 12 inaugural fellowship winners include law professor Anita Hill and New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch.
The Fletcher fellowships, financed by the Fletcher Foundation, were initially announced on May 17, 2004-the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Fletcher, the founder and chairman of Fletcher Asset Management, gave $50 million to create the fellowships, which go to individuals, and to aid institutions dedicated to improving race relations and closing the class divide between African-Americans who have benefited from the civil rights movement and those who have not.
Under her Fletcher fellowship, Willis will work with singer and Grammy winner Aaron Neville, as well as with photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, on a book and exhibition focusing on young black men incarcerated in Louisiana’s Angola Prison.
Earlier this month, Willis received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. With the Guggenheim fellowship, she will focus on the visual culture of African American women in early 20th century photographs (1900-1930). She will research and analyze how the camera was the central instrument by which black women could disprove societal misrepresentation. Willis’s thesis is that through text and images black photographers and black women worked together to expose the injustices their communities experienced and used photography to challenge misrepresentation more than 30 years after the end of slavery.
Willis’s publications include Family, History, and Memory: Recording African-American Life (2005), Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present (2000), and, with Carla Williams, The Black Female Body: A Photographic History (2002). In addition to her work as a historian of African American photography, Willis is a professional art photographer whose works have been exhibited across the United States. She is a professor in Tisch’s Department of Photography and Imaging and part of the faculty at FAS’s Africana Studies program.