Among the 45 recipients of the unrestricted $50,000 fellowships awarded annually by the nonprofit United States Artists (USA) are two with roots in Baltimore: author Susan Muaddi Darraj and film production company TNEG, aka Elissa Blount-Moorhead, Arthur Jafa, and Malik Sayeed. Darraj lives in Phoenix, Md. and TNEG’s Blount-Moorhead lives in Baltimore.
Darraj is the author of two books: “The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly” and “A Curious Land: Stories from Home,” both short fiction collections about the lives of Arab-American women and Palestinian villagers living in the West Bank, respectively. “A Curious Land” received an American Book Award in 2016 and was named Best Fiction Book by the Baltimore City Paper the same year. She teaches as an associate professor of English at Harford Community College and as a lecturer in Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Writing program.
“It feels terrific to represent Baltimore and the Maryland region as a fellow,” Darraj wrote to the Beat via email. “I’ve been living in this region for 17 years now and I’m proud of the literary and the arts community that has supported me and my work for a long time.”
TNEG received international attention last summer when they created the patchwork music video for the title track/Beyonce apology off Jay-Z’s latest album, “4:44.” According to the studio’s website, TNEG’s mission is “to create a black cinema as culturally, socially, and economically central to the 21st century as was black music to the 20th century.” TNEG’s Elissa Blount-Moorhead also had a brief but well-received stint as executive director of Station North Arts and Entertainment District between 2016 and 2017, and published her first book “P Is For Pussy,” an illustrated alphabet of double entendres, in 2015. Her TNEG partners, Arthur Jafa (also known as cinematographer of “Daughters of the Dust” and “Crooklyn”) and Malik Sayeed (cinematographer of “He Got Game” and director of photography of “Belly”), are based in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, respectively.
USA, the Chicago-based organization responsible for awarding the fellowships, is captained by Deana Haggag, who previously served as executive director at Baltimore’s nomadic art museum, The Contemporary. Before the museum suspended operations last December, it mounted an exhibition titled “Only When It’s Dark Enough Can You See The Stars” by another 2018 USA fellow, Bronx-based installation artist Abigail DeVille, at the former Peale Museum in 2016.
This round of USA fellows is Haggag’s first in her role as president and CEO. Baltimore choreographer Liz Lerman and artist Joyce J. Scott previously represented the city in the long list of fellows, who also include “Moonlight” filmmaker Barry Jenkins, author Claudia Rankine, and nearly 500 others in the fields of visual art, theater, dance, architecture and design, music, media, craft, and writing.
View the full list of 2018 fellows here.