2012-2013 Knight-Wallace Fellow, that’s me

After working in the field of comics-format journalism for the last six years, I’ve been “officially” anointed as a member of the fourth estate—I’ve been offered a 2012–2013 Knight-Wallace Fellowship in journalism!

The Knight-Wallace Fellowship gives mid-career journalists a chance to pursue customized sabbatical studies at the University of Michigan for a full academic year. The program also includes twice-weekly seminars, as well as training in narrative writing, multi-platform journalism, and entrepreneurial enterprise. Fellows also make two extended international tours to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Istanbul.

I’m the first comics journalist to be offered a Knight-Wallace Fellowship, and I believe only the second comics journalist to receive an American journalism fellowship of any kind (the first being Dan Archer, who was a 2010–2011 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford). I’m proud to be part of a growing recognition that this field—exemplified by the incredible Joe Sacco—is legitimate and lasting (as evidenced by the work of folks like Archer, Sarah Glidden, Matt Bors, Susie Cagle, Josh Kramer, Ted Rall, and the folks behind Symbolia and the Illustrated Press, just to name a few).

I was inspired to apply for the fellowship after learning that Archer had done the Stanford version, and realizing how beneficial such a program could be for my craft (particularly the journalism side of things). All during the early part of this year, I worked on my application, essays, and supporting materials, as well as rounding up letters of recommendation. (Thank you again, recommenders!) In mid-March I was notified that I was a KWF finalist, and in mid-April I went out to Ann Arbor for the big interview with the board. During that weekend, I got to tour the Wallace House (named after program benefactor Mike Wallace), and meet the current Fellows. Awkwardly, I also mingled with the “competition,” 30+ other finalists for the final roster of 12 American 2012–2013 Fellows. I came away from the interview weekend with a good feeling, but obviously it wasn’t until that April 30 early-morning call from program director Charles Eisendrath that I knew I had it. (I was asked to hold off on spreading the word until the program put out a press release, which they now have done.)

My study plan is to extensively research Bahrain’s Pearl Revolution (which I did a short piece about for Cartoon Movement, the Eisner Award-nominated “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand“). I plan on taking courses in the history of the Persian Gulf, Islam (specifically the Sunni-Shia divide), and the language and culture of the region. The ultimate goal is to produce a long-form comics-format book on the topic.

(My one tiny regret about the fellowship is that I have to back out of my October “Master Artist” residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Fortunately, however, ACA director Nick Conroy was gracious and understanding about my dilemma, and when I suggested that my long-time collaborator and pal Dean Haspiel take over for me, he was thrilled. And maybe I’ll get another chance to do the ACA residency in 2014…)

I really look forward to this amazing opportunity. I especially look forward to immersing myself in the practice of journalism, a field I’ve long been associated with (going back to my early days at The Nation magazine) but am now a designated member! I can’t wait to pick the brains of my fellow Fellows—both American and international—all of whom have more traditional backgrounds and training. The whole experience promises to be incredibly enriching.

So come September, Sari, Phoebe, and I will be temporarily relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’re all excited to embark on this new adventure. (Spouses and partners are invited to all seminars, and are Fellows in all but name. And the program is notoriously family-friendly.) Everyone I’ve talked to who’s had this fellowship just can’t stop raving about it.

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