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Rotella wins Guggenheim Fellowship

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded a 2006 fellowship to Boston College Professor of English Carlo Rotella who will make use of the award to complete a new book on the place of music in the lives of various musicians.

The foundation provides fellowships for advanced professionals in all fields including natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and creative arts.

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of unusually distinguished achievement and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. Some 178 artists, scholars and scientists were selected from 3,000 applicants for the awards.

Rotella's project is titled Playing in Time: A Suite of Musical Lives, about the signifying place of music in lives that are shaped by nonmusical forces and priorities.

"Like many people, I have always vaguely assumed that music is the freest and purest of the arts, the least constrained by circumstance," said Rotella.

"But the more I study and write about music and the lives of musicians, the more I see that much of what is most affecting and interesting about music lies precisely in its relationship to the context within which it takes shape," he said.

"So in this book I examine various musicians - professional and amateur, experts and dabblers - working within one kind of constraint or another," he said.

For instance, Playing in Time details the lives of jazz fantasy campers, who can be full-time musicians for just one week of the year; a bipolar bluesman whose career has swung erratically between greatness and failure; the alumni of a college band who, 20 years later, have all given up music as their families and careers have pulled them in other directions, all except for the one who went on to be a rock star.

"This is a great honor for Carlo Rotella, one of our most prolific colleagues. He has already written three books and many articles on various aspect of urban culture, including urban literature, jazz and boxing," said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph Quinn. "If history is any guide, this will be another terrific volume."

Rotella, who joined Boston College in 2000, is director of the American Studies Program at Boston College. He teaches courses on American literature, American Studies, urban literatures and cultures, and creative nonfiction writing.

"It's hard to write about music, which is one thing that draws me to it," said Rotella, who says that much musical writing tends toward cliché.

"I like the pure writing challenge of trying to say something fresh and accurate about music," he said.

Rotella is the author of October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature, Good with Their Hands: Boxers, Bluesmen, and Other Characters from the Rust Belt, and Cut Time: An Education at the Fights. His writing has appeared in Critical Inquiry, The American Scholar, DoubleTake, Harper's, The Washington Post Magazine, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and The Best American Essays, among others.

The Chicago native says the Guggenheim Fellowship offers him the one precious commodity that he most needs to bring Playing in Time to fruition.

"It clears a block of time to concentrate on the project. That may not sound very dramatic, but it's actually the rarest and most precious gift for anybody with a job who's trying to write a book," he said.

"A year to research and write is a fabulous gift, and I'm deeply grateful for it."


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