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Bard College Faculty Member Karen Sullivan Wins Celebrated Guggenheim Fellowship

Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
Image Credit: Pete Mauney
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Bard College faculty member Karen Sullivan, Irma Brandeis Professor of Romance Cultures and Literature and director of the Medieval Studies Program, is among the 175 winners of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation’s 89th annual competition for the United States and Canada. Sullivan has been awarded a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in Medieval and Romance literature. This year’s diverse fellowship recipients include writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists, scholars, and scientists selected from almost 3,000 applicants and representing 56 different disciplines. Fellows are chosen on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

Sullivan brings the number of Bard faculty members who have received Guggenheim fellowships to nearly 40. Previous recipients from Bard College include Peggy Ahwesh, JoAnne Akalaitas, Peter Hutton, Ann Lauterbach, An-My Lê, Norman Manea, Daniel Mendelsohn, Bradford Morrow, Judy Pfaff, Luc Sante, Stephen Shore, Mona Simpson, and Joan Tower.

Karen Sullivan is Irma Brandeis Professor of Romance Culture and Literature at Bard College. A native of Boston, she studied comparative literature at Bryn Mawr College and the University of California, Berkeley, before coming to Bard. Her work focuses on the clash between the conception of truth held by the “clerics” (clerici), or learned men of the Middle Ages, who wrote historical and religious texts in Latin for other learned men, and that held by the varied populations (clerical and lay, male and female, bourgeois and aristocratic) who composed literary texts in the vernacular for popular audiences. Her first book, The Interrogation of Joan of Arc (University of Minnesota Press, 1999), examined the encounter between the clerical interrogators and Joan of Arc during the latter’s trial for heresy in Rouen in 1431. Her second book, Truth and the Heretic: Crises of Knowledge in Medieval French Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2005)—the winner of the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Literature—juxtaposed chroniclers, preachers, and inquisitors who condemned heretics as people who used ambiguities of words in order to avoid prosecution, and the authors of troubadour lyrics, Arthurian romances, and fabliaux, who celebrated similar figures of epistemological uncertainty in their pages. Her third book, The Inner Lives of Medieval Inquisitors (University of Chicago Press, 2011; reprinted in paperback, 2013), contrasted preachers and inquisitors who, seeing themselves as loving the “simple people” (simplices) within the Church, were impatient to burn at the stake the heretics who threatened to seduce these simple people into doctrinal error, and clerics who, seeing themselves as loving the heretics themselves, were willing to wait for these sinners to return to the Church, even if they led other Christians astray in the meantime. By putting historical and religious texts into conversation with literary ones, Professor Sullivan not only articulates the different conceptions of truth in play in the Middle Ages, but also demonstrates the effects these different conceptions of truth produced in people’s lived experience. In a context where truth was so often associated with Catholic orthodoxy and untruth with a heretical deviation from that doctrine, she connects the desire for truth and the perpetration of violence. In her current project, The Danger of Romance, Professor Sullivan turns her attention to the clash between the historical and religious authors who rejected Arthurian romance in the Middle Ages and the literary authors who embraced this genre. By setting into dialogue the historical and religious texts which criticized romance and the literary texts themselves, Professor Sullivan shows how Arthurian romance makes a case for the truth value of its fictions and, in doing so, makes a case for the truth value of imaginative literature in general.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted more than $306 million in fellowships to more than 17,500 individuals since its establishment in 1925. Scores of Nobel, Pulitzer, and other prizewinners appear on the roll of fellows, which includes Ansel Adams, W. H. Auden, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Philip Roth, Derek Walcott, and Eudora Welty. The full list of 2013 fellows may be viewed at

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CAPTION INFO: Bard College faculty member Karen Sullivan, Irma Brandeis Professor of Romance Cultures and Literature and director of the Medieval Studies Program, has been awarded a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in Medieval and Romance literature.


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This event was last updated on 04-12-2013