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Q&A: Princeton Arts Fellows '17–'19

Every year, the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Princeton Arts Fellowships at are awarded to two or three promising early-career artists in any field. Among a pool of over 740 applicants, writer Erika Sánchez, lighting and projection designer David Bengali ’04, and poet and performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko were recently named as the 2017–19 Princeton University Arts Fellows.

They will join us on campus in the fall, just as the new Lewis Center opens its doors. The current awardees will be joining the 2016–18 fellows: composer Shawn Jaeger, filmmaker Afia Serena Nathaniel, and writer Rebekah Rutkoff. As part of the new cohort, Sánchez, Bengali, and Kosoko will teach courses, work on artistic projects, and collaborate with the community.


The Daily Princetonian interviewed Sánchez and Bengali as they prepare to come to the University this fall.

The Daily Princetonian: Could you describe your work as an artist?

David Bengali: I design projections and lighting for theater, dance, and other live performances. I am responsible for visual compositions to coordinate with these events. I use video, imagery, screens, and projectors to create one coherent image. Lighting is more abstract but also part of the same world.

Erika Sánchez: I am a writer and I work in all three genres. I’m publishing a novel this year, working on a poetry collection, and writing a collection of essays. I also write articles, critical analyses, and other such pieces. My work is mostly based on feminist discourse and social justice, so I write a lot about sex workers, labor, borders, and things of that nature.

DP: What led you to apply to the program?


DB: I learned about the program last year through Jane Cox [director and senior lecturer in theater]. I also was a student at Princeton a number of years ago, so [through this program] I can give back to the community and help any students who have similar interests. I was a computer science major and also had a certificate in theater, so this was a great way to combine those fields of interests.

ES: Actually, a friend of mine sent me the posting. I had never even considered it, but then I read it and realized I was very qualified. I like to aim high and I thought, “Why not take a chance?” It all worked out and it’s like a dream for me to be able to do this.

DP: What about the position either excites you or worries you the most?

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DB: It’s really just exciting to have the chance to pursue creative projects in an environment with such a vibrant community of artists. Also, I’m excited to get in touch with experts in other fields and expand creatively into those areas. This is a great opportunity to evolve along with the students through these projects and find even more opportunities for the community.

ES: I’m just excited to work with talented students and teach with freedom. That’s a privilege that not many people get, along with the space and time to write. I’m not nervous or worried — just completely ecstatic.

DP: What hopes and expectations do you have for your time at the University?

DB: I don’t know that I have any expectations, but I hope that I can spend time working on a variety of projects and collaborate with both the staff and the student population. Also, I hope that I can bring students of diverse backgrounds together and see what they can create.

ES: I hope to develop great relations with the students and also be a mentor especially to students of color. I want to create events, organize readings, and do many other similar things with my time. I also plan to work on and possibly finish my next project. I find it very exciting to have such an opportunity to become immersed in a place of knowledge and inquiry, and to be able to attend lectures and other events at Princeton.

More information on the artists and the Princeton Arts Fellowship can be found at