Mellon Foundation Appoints Farah Jasmine Griffin and Clint Smith as 2021 Fellows in Residence

side-by-side headshots of two individuals wearing neutral colors with their arms crossed in front of soft outdoor backgrounds Farah Jasmine Griffin (left) and Clint Smith (right).

NEW YORK, NY, July 15, 2021 – The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation today announced the appointment of two new Mellon Foundation Fellows in Residence: Columbia University inaugural chair of African American and African diaspora studies Farah Jasmine Griffin and New York Times best-selling author Clint Smith.

Griffin is the author or editor of eight books, including the landmark work on the culture of the Great Migration, Who Set You Flowin?: The African-American Migration Narrative, the jazz studies classic If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday, and the forthcoming Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature, to be published by Norton in September 2021. 

Smith is a poet and staff writer for The Atlantic. A New York Times #1 best seller, his latest narrative nonfiction book How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (Little, Brown & Company, 2021) is an exploration of nine places where, says Smith, “the story of slavery in America lives on,” including Monticello, Galveston Island, and the Whitney Plantation. 

The two Fellows will serve through August 2022 and pursue their own research and writing as well as advise on programs, convenings, and conversations in collaboration with Foundation leadership and staff. 

“Farah Jasmine Griffin’s brilliant scholarship and academic leadership and Clint Smith’s remarkable poetry and nonfiction continue to transform the arts, culture, and humanities in our country,” said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “We are honored that they will serve as Mellon Fellows and delighted that their crystalline thinking and rigorous questioning will help inform our work throughout the year ahead.”

Begun in 2015, the Mellon Foundation’s Fellows in Residence program works to engage artists, scholars, and curators in exploring challenges and opportunities identified as the top Foundation priorities at the intersection of the arts and humanities. 

“During this period in the Foundation’s distinguished history, it has emerged as the visionary philanthropic leader supporting forward-thinking, world-changing intellectual and artistic work,” said Farah Jasmine Griffin. “I cannot think of a more exciting moment to have been named a Fellow and I look forward to being in residence and working with such an extraordinary team of thought leaders.” 

“I am thrilled to be joining The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a Fellow,” said Clint Smith. “I have long admired the important work the Foundation does—specifically in the spaces of prison education and public history—and I look forward to working alongside a community of people using their minds, hearts, and commitment to build a more just and equitable society.”  

Griffin and Smith join a cohort of prominent leaders in the arts and humanities who have served as Fellows and worked with Foundation colleagues on shared interests. Previous Mellon Foundation Fellows in Residence are: William D. Adams, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and President Emeritus of Colby College; Karen Brooks Hopkins, former president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM); Johnnetta Cole, former director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and President Emerita of Spelman and Bennett Colleges; Cathy Davidson, distinguished professor at the CUNY Graduate Center; Stephen Pitti, professor of history and American studies at Yale University; James Shulman, vice president and COO of the American Council of Learned Societies; and Olga Viso, senior advisor for global partnerships at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and former executive director of the Walker Art Center. 

More about the 2021 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellows in Residence:

Farah Jasmine Griffin is inaugural chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Columbia University, where she also serves as the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature. She is the author or editor of eight books, including the forthcoming Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature (Norton, September 2021). Griffin’s essays and articles on issues of race, gender, feminism, jazz, and cultural politics have appeared in Essence, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian, Artforum, and numerous other publications. She is also a frequent radio commentator on political and cultural issues. Griffin has collaborated with musician Geri Allen and director and actor S. Epatha Merkerson on two theatrical projects. The first, Geri Allen and Friends Celebrate the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo, premiered on the main stage of the Apollo Theater in May 2013; the second, A Conversation with Mary Lou, premiered at Harlem Stage in March 2014 and was performed at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in May 2016. Griffin received her BA from Harvard and her PhD in American studies from Yale. 

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic and author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, a #1 New York Times best seller, and the poetry collection Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry magazine, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Smith is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and a 2017 recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review. His two TED Talks, The Danger of Silence and How to Raise a Black Son in America, collectively have been viewed more than 9 million times. He is also the host of the YouTube series Crash Course Black American History. Previously, Smith taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Maryland where, in 2013, he was named the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Humanities Council. He currently teaches writing and literature in the DC Central Detention Facility. Smith received his BA in English from Davidson College and a PhD in education from Harvard University.

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About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. 

For more information, contact

press@mellon.org