Our prizes are named for three people whose lives and careers spanned France and the United States, bringing French and American culture and society into dynamic conversation with one another.
The Josephine Baker Honors Thesis Prize
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine Baker (1906-1975) moved to Paris - where public places were generally not segregated - at the age of 19 to join an all-Black revue. She became an iconic Jazz Age performer in dance, vaudeville and film. During World War II, she also became a spy for the French Resistance, using her celebrity to gain access to high-ranking Axis officials, and housing refugees and Resistance members at her rented chateau in the south of France. After the war, in 1945, General Charles de Gaulle awarded her the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance. He also named her a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, the highest order of merit for military and civil action. Although she continued to be based in France, Baker spent time in the United States during the 1950’s where she played an important role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Our undergraduate essay prize is named in honor of her.
The Louise Bourgeois Essay Prize
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was born and grew up in Paris, where she studied mathematics at the Sorbonne before turning to the study of art at the École des Beaux Arts and the École du Louvre. In 1938, she moved to New York City, where she ultimately became a member of the American Abstract Artists Group, befriending other artists such as Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Bourgeois is best known for her large-scale sculptures and installations - especially her monumental spiders and room-sized “Cells” - but she was also a painter and printmaker, alternating among forms, materials, and scales, and between figurative and abstract works, to explore themes of family and domesticity, sexuality and the body, loneliness, fear, jealousy and anger, death and life. Our Masters and early PhD level graduate essay prize is named in honor of her.
The James Baldwin Essay Prize
An American novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, and activist, James Baldwin (1924-1987) was born in Harlem, New York City and emigrated to France in 1948 at the age of 24, first to Paris’s Left Bank, later settling in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the South of France. In moving to France, Baldwin was seeking a setting in which to think, write and conduct his career outside the confines of American racism and race politics. From the vantage point of an expatriate, he examined the complexities of race, class, sexual and national identities. His non-fiction writing offers the subtle clarity of his irreducible perspective on these subjects, while his fiction powerfully conveys the experience of being a human at the focus of myriad social and psychological pressures. Our PhD-level essay prize is named in honor of him.