UCSC Arts and Humanities faculty win USA fellowships

photo of Karen Yamashita
UCSC Literature professor Karen Tei Yamashita
photo of John Jota LeaƱos
UCSC assistant professor of Film and Digital Media John Jota Leaños

Two UCSC arts and humanities faculty are among the 50 writers, dancers, musicians, filmmakers and other artists nationwide who have been awarded $50,000 USA fellowships grants.

Literature professor Karen Tei Yamashita was honored in the Literature category and assistant professor of film and digital media John Jota Leaños received his award in Media.

The 2011 awards were officially announced Monday at a ceremony hosted by actor/director Tim Robbins at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

Each year, United States Artists awards unrestricted fellowships to outstanding performing, visual, media, and literary artists across the country—“the most innovative and influential artists in their fields.”

The non-profit organization has awarded $15 million to 317 different fellows since the program was founded in 2006.

Leaños is an interdisciplinary artist in UCSC’s social documentation program who works in animation, installation, and performance. He addresses social issues by merging traditional Chicano and mestizo cultural expressions, such as Day of the Dead imagery, with contemporary media and technology.

Through humor and popular music, Leaños confronts topics such as how war, border violence, and globalization intersect with class, gender, and race.

Leaños' animated films have been shown internationally at festivals including the Sundance 2010 Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival 07, and Cannes Short Corner 07.

His installation work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2002 Whitney Biennial, Art in General in New York City, the Oakland Museum and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Leaños' multimedia Mariachi opera, Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta / A Dead Opera in Four Acts has also been staged at venues including the Museo del Barrio in New York; and The Luckman Fine Arts Center in Los Angeles.

Yamashita received a 2011 California Book Award in the Fiction category for her most recent novel I Hotel, and was  a finalist for the National Book Award.

Co-director of the Creative Writing Program at UCSC, her intensely researched works reflect interests in communities whose stories often go untold.

Yamashita is the author of four previous books, including Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990), which received the American Book Award, and Brazil-Maru, named by the Village Voice as one of the 25 best books of 1992.

Her third novel, Tropic of Orange (1997), was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize, and she followed that with Circle K Cycles (2001), a book based on her research on the Brazilian community in Japan.

Yamashita received the Chancellor’s Award for Diversity at UC Santa Cruz in 2009.