Edward McPherson, an associate professor of English in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has won a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. The award will provide McPherson — an award-winning author of three nonfiction books as well as numerous essays and short stories — with support for his new nonfiction book, a project that mixes history, reporting and personal experience to examine the “delights and dangers” of taking the long view.
“We are thrilled that the Guggenheim Foundation has recognized Edward’s work,” said Feng Sheng Hu, dean of Arts & Sciences. “He is carrying on a great tradition of Guggenheim Fellows in Arts & Sciences — one I believe we are poised to build on in the future.”
Each year, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awards fellowships to exceptional individuals in pursuit of scholarship in the social sciences, natural sciences, humanities and creative arts. When he established the program in 1925, Simon Guggenheim wrote that organization’s goal was to “add to the educational, literary, artistic and scientific power of this country.” Since then, the foundation has awarded fellowships to over 18,000 academics and artists who show great potential in their fields.
“I’m so grateful for the fellowship,” McPherson said. “It will allow me dedicated time to write, research and report. It’s just the greatest gift of time.”
Originally from Texas, McPherson has been on the faculty at Washington University for 10 years. Before that, he was a journalist and freelance writer in New York City, interim education director at the Loft Literary Center, and a creative writing teacher at the University of Minnesota. His nonfiction books include “Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat,” “The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats” and “The History of the Future: American Essays.” He also has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, The American Scholar, Gulf Coast, Salon, The New York Observer, Literary Hub and Guernica, among others.
“The History of the Future: American Essays,” which won the 2017 PEN Southwest Book Award, is about places in America where the past erupts into the present in uncomfortable ways. The Los Angeles Review of Books said, “McPherson’s depth of research, the inventiveness of his prose, and his sensitivity to municipal undercurrents make this a first-rate work of social analysis…To walk through a city with him is to be in the company of one who looks through landscapes rather than at them.”
The Guggenheim fellowship will support McPherson’s current project, which he hopes will touch on themes similar to his last book. The current project will focus on the long view, both literally and metaphorically. The award will allow him to travel to Fort Worth, Texas, to look at bird’s-eye-view maps that gripped the public imagination in the 19th century. He also hopes to visit a futurist society in West Texas considering long-term environmental change. And here in St. Louis, he’ll consider the rise of geospatial intelligence with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new facility.
Abram Van Engen, chair and a professor of English, said that while Guggenheim awards are always surprising, they are well earned. McPherson’s is no exception, he said.
“He writes extraordinary books that draw connections you never see coming, with insight and remarkable prose,” Van Engen said. “We are proud to have him on our faculty, and our students are lucky to learn creative nonfiction from such an excellent teacher and accomplished writer.”
McPherson is the ninth Arts & Sciences faculty member to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship since 2010.