Jewish Pitt prof, horror scholar, receives Guggenheim Fellowship
Award recognizes that 'horror does matter and it is worth thinking about,' said Adam Lowenstein
Adam Lowenstein is used to nightmares, but a recent announcement was a dream.
On April 5, Lowenstein, a professor of film and media studies at the University of Pittsburgh and director of its horror studies working group, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Lowenstein was one of 171 “exceptional individuals chosen from a rigorous application and peer review process out of almost 2,500 applicants,” according to the board of trustees of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The awards were made based on “prior achievement and exceptional promise.”
“It's an incredible honor to be included with such a stellar group of scholars and artists that are the Guggenheim Fellows,” Lowenstein told the Chronicle.
After decades of research and teaching, the award is particularly meaningful, he continued.
“As someone who has worked in what has emerged now as a discipline in its own right, which is horror studies, you can imagine that it has not always been the easiest case to make — to colleagues, to foundations, to entities that have authority — that horror matters,” he said.
Lowenstein said he’s faced a “sort of prejudice” throughout his career stemming from a belief by some that “horror is popular, but horror can't really mean much of anything.”
Becoming a Guggenheim Fellow “goes a long way towards saying, ‘No, horror does matter and it is worth thinking about, and there are reasons, good compelling important reasons, to write and research and teach it.’”
Fellowship support — awards typically range between $30,000 and $45,000, Forbes reported — will enable Lowenstein to focus on his next book, “The Jewish Horror Film: Taboo and Redemption.”
The subject builds on recent work, he explained.
Last year, Columbia University Press published Lowenstein’s “Horror Film and Otherness.”
Though that text addressed general questions of horror’s relation to social difference, “one of those areas of social difference that really moved me powerfully, and seemed like it called out for more serious and expansive treatment, was Jewish otherness,” he said. “It really felt like the two chapters in ‘Horror Film and Otherness’ were just not enough to deal with something that felt much more broad and complicated to deal with.”
The aim of Lowenstein’s newest book, he said, is to “really explore the question of what is a Jewish horror film? What does it mean when we think about a Jewish horror film in a particular way? And especially what does it mean when we sort of expand the notion of Jewish horror to include things that we may not have initially thought belonged in that sort of case?”
Jewish folklore lovers know the Golem and Dybbuk are familiar figures, but Lowenstein believes other areas and individuals — including filmmakers Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg — deserve attention.
Kubrick had a lifelong ambition to make a Holocaust movie but never did. Similarly, although Spielberg made “Schindler’s List,” if one reviews his career “through the lens of Jewish horror, I think we see a lot of darker things that people who think of him solely as the man who brought us ‘ET’ would miss,” Lowenstein said.
Exploring these topics feels “exciting and challenging and daunting,” the professor said. “I feel like it will necessitate a reckoning not just with the subject matter but with my own life, my own family, my own history.”
Lowenstein was born in Israel but raised in New Jersey. His connection to horror, he said, is “inescapably and inexorably” tied to his Jewish experience.
“As I reflect back on it, and I look back on where I've been and where I am now, I can see that the Jewishness and the horror have always been inextricable, and that for me to understand who I am as a Jew, and to understand who I am as a scholar of horror studies, is actually part and parcel of the same question, not two separate questions,” he said.
Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation and a 1985 Fellow in Poetry cited Ralph Waldo Emerson in a statement, saying, “fullness in life comes from following our calling.” Lowenstein and the 170 other Fellows have “followed their calling to enhance all of our lives, to provide greater human knowledge and deeper understanding. We’re lucky to look to them to bring us into the future.”
Lowenstein said he’s eager to embrace his place as a Guggenheim Fellow but, like a character in a horror flick, isn’t sure what’s waiting behind the door, “to me this is at least as much about finding out who I am, where I come from and how I got here, as it is about finding out what Jewish horror means.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at [email protected].