The first-ever fellowship award from the Philip Brett LGBT Fund was made this spring by a faculty committee choosing from a highly competitive field of 19 applicants.

The winner was Chris Atwood, a Ph.D. student in Italian Studies.  He is currently working on his dissertation, which is entitled: “‘Wanting Home’: Italy, Same-Sex Desire, and Narrative.”

Chris Atwood
The recipient: Berkeley’s Chris Atwood, with Rome in the background

As a new fellowship, the stipend is not large, but Atwood has already found it useful in helping defray his summer expenses, including a number of pricey academic books he needs for his dissertation but could not previously afford.

Atwood grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, and attended Vermont’s Middlebury College to study foreign languages.  Fascination with the diverse cultures of Italy took him to Florence for his junior year, and daily exposure to the living language and Italian literature helped him decide to pursue a Ph.D.

He came to Berkeley for that degree, Atwood says, partly because of his department’s interdisciplinary approach. “I knew I would be encouraged to collaborate with professors in fields as varied as History, Comparative Literature, History of Art, Film Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.”

“Given the queer focus of my dissertation,” he adds, “I also wanted to attend a university that would be receptive to such a nontraditional topic.”  He found the Italian Studies department to be welcoming and supportive, and “at Cal, I have received a rigorous training in the theories of human sexuality — a training that continues to guide my research question and in-class teaching.”

(His dissertation topic would probably have been taboo in Italy itself, Atwood notes. “Despite an extensive tradition of homoerotic art and literature in Italy, the subject of same-sex relations has been only tangentially discussed by most Italian scholars.”)

person conducting orchestra
The namesake: Philip Brett, musician, conductor, researcher, teacher, and alumnus

The Brett Fund was set up in 2009 with contributions from faculty, staff, alumni, undergrads, and grad students, to enable Berkeley graduate students to pursue LGBT-related scholarship in any field of their choice.  It honors the memory of Philip Brett, an eminent music scholar who did graduate work at Berkeley in the 1960s and taught here for many years, before going on to distinguished work at UC Riverside and UCLA. A noted harpsichordist, primarily in Renaissance and Baroque music, Brett also conducted UC Berkeley’s Chamber Chorus (from 1966 to 1991) and served as chairman of the music department.  He died of cancer in 2002, one day before his 65th birthday. Brett’s pioneering research virtually kick-started the entire field of musical scholarship about, and by, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

One of the prime movers in establishing the fund was Davitt Moroney Ph.D. ‘80, who was a graduate student under Brett here and is now a Berkeley music professor himself.  He is also a longtime member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the LGBT Community at Cal (CAC-LGBT), which has been active in promoting the Brett fund.

The second annual competition for the Philip Brett LGBT Fellowship will be held in spring 2013.  It’s open to all doctoral students doing LGBT-related research in any field.

(How did a 1945 opera about events in 1830 lead to a lecture in 1976 that eventually sparked the creation of a new fellowship helping 21st-century grad students?  The answer is here.)