The New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers has selected its 22nd class of Fellows: 15 talented academics, literary and visual artists, and independent scholars. The Fellows were selected from a pool of 471 applicants from 49 countries, the class of 2020 includes: 

  • Academics Steven Hahn, Jennifer Mittelstadt, Sophia Roosth, Namwali Serpell, Caroline Weber, and Mason B. Williams;
  • Artist Peter Kuper;
  • Poets Togara Muzanenhamo and Gregory Pardlo;
  • Fiction writers Hernan Diaz and Hanna Pylväinen;
  • Independent scholars Burkhard Bilger, Barbara Demick, and Nina Munk; and
  • Playwright Christopher Shinn.

“At a time of retrenchment elsewhere in the humanities, we’re proud to support this full cohort of brilliant and varied scholars and writers,” said Salvatore Scibona, the Sue Ann and John Weinberg Director of the Cullman Center. “The innovative work these Fellows are making is a testament to the continuing vitality of scholarship and creative arts at the Library.”

During the Fellowship term, which runs from September through May, the 2020 class of Cullman Center Fellows will have access to the renowned research collections and resources of The New York Public Library, as well as the invaluable assistance of its curatorial and reference staff. The Fellows will also receive a stipend and the use of a private office in the Cullman Center’s quarters at The New York Public Library’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. 

Although The New York Public Library’s research centers, including the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, remain temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19, they continue to offer virtual access to the Library’s collections through online databases, virtual reference support from librarians, and expanded Electronic Document Delivery. 

The Center fosters an atmosphere of creative and scholarly collaboration both within the Library and in the larger cultural environment of New York, which includes hosting public Conversations from the Cullman Center, a series of free programs that focus on the books Fellows worked on while in residence at the Library (currently offered virtually).

Cullman Center Fellows regularly receive distinguished honors and awards for these books.  Prize-winning and prominent past Fellows include: André Aciman, Elif Batuman, David Blight, Ian Buruma, Jennifer Egan, Nathan Englander, Alvaro Enrigue, Hal Foster, Ian Frazier, Rivka Galchen, Annette Gordon-Reed, Anthony Grafton, Saidiya Hartman, Stephen Kotkin, Nicole Krauss, Hari Kunzru, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Hermione Lee, Larissa MacFarquhar, Megan Marshall, Ayana Mathis, Colum McCann, Richard McGuire, Pankaj Mishra, Lorrie Moore, C.E. Morgan, Joseph O’Neill, Téa Obreht, George Packer, Darryl Pinckney, Lauren Redniss, Sally Rooney, Karen Russell, Stacy Schiff, James Shapiro, Dash Shaw, Mark Stevens, T.J. Stiles, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Colm Tóibín, Wells Tower, Rosanna Warren, Colson Whitehead, and Alejandro Zambra.

For more information about the Center, its current and former Fellows, and its programs for teachers and the general public, visit

About the 2020-2021 Fellows
Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers



Burkhard Bilger has been a staff writer at the New Yorker since 2001. His pieces have included portraits of gem dealers in Madagascar, ginseng poachers in the Appalachians, deep-cave explorers in Mexico, and a cheese-making nun in Connecticut. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s, among other publications, and has been anthologized ten times in the “Best American” series. Bilger is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yale University, and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for his first book, Noodling for Flatheads. At the Cullman Center, he will work on a book about his grandfather’s experiences in WWII, tentatively titled Fatherland.


Double Purity: A Question of Identity and Nationality

The Janice B. and Milford D. Gerton/Arts and Letters Foundation Fellow 

Barbara Demick is the author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which won the Samuel Johnson prize (now the Baillie Gifford prize) for nonfiction in the UK and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also the author of Logavina StreetLife and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood. Her newest book, Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town, was published by Random House in July.  She has worked as a foreign correspondent out of China, Korea, the Middle East, and the Balkans, most recently for the Los Angeles Times, earlier for the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the Cullman Center, she will be working on a book called Double Purity: A Question of Identity and Nationality, about identical twins born in China.



Hernan Diaz’s first novel, In the Distance, was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the winner of the Saroyan International Prize, the Cabell Award, the Prix Page America, and the New American Voices Award, among other distinctions. It was also a Publishers WeeklyTop 10 Book of the Year, one of Lit Hub’s Top 20 Books of the Decade, and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. A recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award, he is also the author of Borgesbetween History and Eternityand edits an academic journal at Columbia University. He has published stories and essays in Cabinet, the New York Times, the Kenyon ReviewPlayboyGranta,the Paris Review, and elsewhere. At the Cullman Center he will be working on his second novel, concerned with representations of wealth in America.


The Illiberal Tradition(s) in America

Steven Hahn teaches history at New York University and is a historian of the nineteenth century United States; of slavery, emancipation, and race; and of southern and African American history.  His most recent books include A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration; The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom; and A Nation without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830–1910.  At the Cullman Center he will be writing a book that explores the illiberal tradition in America.



The Jean Strouse Fellow

Peter Kuper’s work regularly appears in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Nation,and Mad,where he has written and illustrated Spy vs. Spysince 1997. He has produced over two dozen books including adaptations of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, Diario de OaxacaThe System,and Ruins, winner of the 2016 Eisner Award for best graphic novel. He has taught comics courses for three decades at The School of Visual Arts and as a visiting professor at Harvard University. At the Cullman Center he will work on INterSECTionS, a graphic novel about the symbiotic relationship between insects and humans.


Private Wars: The Global Politics of the Grassroots Rights

Jennifer Mittelstadt is professor of history at Rutgers University. She studies the twentieth-century United States, with broad interests in the state, politics, gender, social movements, the military, and the US role in the world. She is the author of From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945–1964and The Rise of the Military Welfare State, and has published articles and opinion pieces for Jacobin, War on the Rocks, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Voxamong others.  She has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and held the Harold K. Johnson Chair in Military History at the US Army War College. At the Cullman Center she will work on a book exploring how everyday Americans on the right imagined and participated in global affairs in the twentieth century.


Mixing Memory and Desire: The Untold Story of One Family’s Shame and Survival in the Holocaust

The John and Constance Birkelund Fellow

Nina Munk is a journalist and author whose articles have appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and the New Yorker, among other publications. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 2001, Nina was previously a senior writer at Fortune and a senior editor at Forbes. She is the author of several books, most recently The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. She is also the editor of How It Happened: Documenting the Tragedy of Hungarian Jewry. As a Cullman Center Fellow, she will research and write a book of narrative nonfiction set against the backdrop of the Holocaust in Hungary.



Togara Muzanenhamo was born in Zambia and brought up in Zimbabwe. He has studied in France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. His poems have appeared widely in international journals and magazines. His debut poetry collection, Spirit Brides, was shortlisted for the Jerwood Alderburgh First Collection Prize. He has published two other collections of poems: Textures, which won the National Arts Merit Award for Literature, and Gumiguru, which was shortlisted for the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. At the Cullman Center he will work on Virga, a collection of poems set in the twentieth century that will feature historical events woven together by the weather and the memory of the wind. 


Spectral Evidence 

Gregory Pardlo’s poetry ​collection​ Digestwon the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. His first collection, Totem, won the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. He is the poetry editor of Virginia Quarterly Reviewand director of the MFA program at Rutgers University–Camden. His most recent book is Air Traffic, a memoir in essays. At the Cullman Center, he will research demonology for a poetry collection that considers the symmetry between beliefs in witchcraft and race.


The End of Drum-Time

The Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellow

Hanna Pylväinen is the author of the novel We Sinners, which received the Whiting Award. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal; she is the recipient of residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Lásságámmi, as well as fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and Princeton University. At the Cullman Center she will work on her second novel, The End of Drum-Time, set in 1850s Lapland, in which a reindeer herder’s religious awakening leads to rebellion.


The Quick and the Dead

Sophia Roosth is an anthropologist who writes about the contemporary life sciences. She is the author of Synthetic: How Life Got Made, an ethnography of synthetic biologists that documents the profound shifts biology has undergone in the post-genomic age. Roosth’s work has been supported by a Berlin Prize and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She has published widely in journals including Critical Inquiry, Representations, Differences, American Anthropologist, Science, and Grey Room, as well as in popular venues such as Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, American Scientist, e-flux, and Aeon. At the Cullman Center, she will work on a historically and ethnographically informed travelogue into the worlds of scientists seeking ancient microbial fossils.


The Afronaut

Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer who teaches at Harvard. She’s a recipient of a 2020 Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction and the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing, and was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize. She was selected for the Africa39 in 2014 and received a 2011 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Her first novel, The Old Drift (Hogarth, 2019), won the 2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book prize for fiction and the Los Angeles Times’s Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. It was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times’s  Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction, longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review. Her work can be found in the New Yorker, McSweeney’s, the Believer, Tin House, n+1,the San Francisco Chronicle, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. At the Cullman Center, she will work on The Afronaut, a book and digital archive, using the story of Edward Mukuka Nkoloso, freedom fighter and founder of the Zambian Space Program, to explore the complex origins of Afrofuturism.


Untitled on disability and culture

Christopher Shinn is a playwright whose works include Pulitzer Prize–finalist Dying City, Obie Award-winning Where Do We Live, and Now or Later, which was shortlisted for the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play. Most recently, his adaptation of Ödön von Horváth’s Judgment Daypremiered at Park Avenue Armory and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Adaptation. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and is a part-time assistant professor at the New School. At the Cullman Center, he will be working on a non-fiction book that investigates the history of disability representation, utilizing René Girard’s theory of the scapegoat and his own experience as a person with a disability.


Paris Quadrille: Belle Epoque Society and the Legends of Lost Time

The Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fellow

Caroline Weber is a biographer, historian, and professor of French and Comparative Literature at Barnard College, Columbia University. A specialist in eighteenth- to twentieth-century French literature and culture, she has published essays in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, Wmagazine, and Vogue, as well as in many scholarly journals. Weber is the author of three books: Terror and Its Discontents: Suspect Words in Revolutionary France; Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution; and Pulitzer Prize–finalist Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris. At the Cullman Center she will work on Paris Quadrille: Belle Époque Society and the Legends of Lost Time, a social history of the final years of the French aristocracy, starting with the seismic national scandal of the Dreyfus Affair and ending in the trenches of the First World War. 


City of Fortune: Urban Democracy in an Age of Inequality

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow

Mason B. Williams is assistant professor of leadership studies and political science at Williams College. He is the author of City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York, and a co-editor of Alan Brinkley: A Life in History and Shaped By the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century. At the Cullman Center he will work on City of Fortune: Urban Democracy in an Age of Inequality, a political history of New York since the 1970s to be published by W. W. Norton.

Contact: Amy Geduldig | 212.592.7177

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The interior of the Cullman Center at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

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