Professor Robert Faggen Awarded 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship; Will Use Time for Kesey Biography

Robert Faggen, the Barton Evans and H. Andrea Neves Professor of Literature, has been awarded a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship. Faggen, honored in the category of humanities, in the field of American literature, will use the fellowship to complete a biography of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kenneth “Ken” Kesey.

Faggen was among 3,000 scholars, scientists, and artists who applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship this year; only 180 fellowships were appointed, on the basis of a candidate’s “prior achievement and exceptional promise.” As part of the application process, Faggen provided a narrative of his scholarly career, a description of his research proposal, and samples of previous work.

With the Guggenheim, Faggen will take sabbatical next year to write and to travel in and around Pleasant Hill, Oregon, the tiny, population-2,220-community where Kesey lived until his death in 2001, and to areas in Texas, Colorado, and Arkansas where Kesey and his relatives grew up.

“I’m honored by the Guggenheim Foundation’s support of my work,” Faggen said in response to his selection. “It will provide me the opportunity to go deeper into the story of Kesey’s life.”

Previous Guggenheim winners include current CMC professors
Jay Martin (1966, American literature), Jamaica Kincaid (1985, fiction), and Robert von Hallberg (1987, American literature). While all three professors received their Fellowships prior to joining CMC, Faggen is the only faculty member who has been awarded the Guggenheim while at Claremont McKenna.

“This is tremendous recognition for Robert Faggen, and indirectly the College,” said professor of government and associate dean of the faculty Hilary Appel.

Faggen’s biography in progress, The Sparks Fly Up: The Life of Ken Kesey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has been in the works for half a dozen years, but it isn’t the first endeavor that has linked Faggen with the American novelist’s work. In 2002, the Claremont McKenna College professor wrote the introduction to Viking’s 40th anniversary edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and interviewed Kesey for The Paris Review.

Last Friday, April 8, Faggen was among the scholars invited by the University of Oregon to discuss Kesey’s influence on American culture and his creative processes. Faggen was the keynote speaker at the Knight Library and moderated a discussion of the just-released documentary about Kesey’s legendary 1964 bus trip, entitled Magic Trip, written and co-directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.) Faggen was a consultant on Magic Trip.

When Kesey died in 2001, the loss was felt even here in Claremont, where he’d visited just a decade before. Faggen invited the novelist to campus in 1991 to talk with students about his writing. Two semesters later, the novelist and counter-culture icon returned to deliver the Commencement address to the Class of 1992. He would then come back the next year, in 1993, to speak about American historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner, with whom he studied at Stanford.

Faggen’s connections to heroic literary figures are well known around campus. In addition to Kesey, he also has published extensively on the work of Robert Frost.

Asked why the interest in both symbolic writers, Faggen jokes, “They were both lousy farmers, but great storytellers and poets.

“In different ways,” said Faggen, “both became ambiguous icons of American ideals.”

Faggen’s selection as Guggenheim Fellow follows on the heels of yet another writing projectthis one celebrating poet, novelist and songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Diana Secker, editor of the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet collection for Random House, says Faggen selected the poems and lyrics that appear in the line’s just-released Poems and Songs (April 2011, Everyman’s Library) by Cohen. Faggen edited the cross-section of Cohen’s song lyrics and poems, and also wrote the preface.